General packet radio service (GPRS) is a packet-based wireless data communication service designed to replace the current circuit-switched services available on the second-generation global system for mobile communications (GSM) and time division multiple access (TDMA) IS-136 networks. GSM and TDMA networks were designed for voice communication, dividing the available bandwidth into multiple channels, each of which is constantly allocated to an individual call (circuit-switched). These channels can be used for the purpose of data transmission, but they only provide a maximum transmission speed of around 9.6Kbps (kilobits per second).
GPRS distributes packets of data from several different terminals in the system across multiple channels, making a much more efficient use of the bandwidth currently available for ‘bursty’ applications such as internet access. In theory, using all eight channels in a GSM network at once, a GPRS connection can achieve a data transfer rate of up to 114Kbps. These higher data rates will allow users to interact with multimedia websites and similar applications using a mobile handset or notebook computer. In theory, GPRS services should be cheaper than circuit-switched connections, with the network only being used when data is being transmitted.
GPRS communication is designed to compliment but not replace current circuit-switched networks, being used solely as an extra means of data communication. In practice, connection speeds will be significantly lower than the theoretical maximum, depending upon the amount of traffic on the network and upon the number of simultaneous channels supported by the handsets. In practice, GPRS is an evolutionary step towards enhanced data for global evolution (EDGE) and IMT-2000 systems.