Our history

Our history

Why we began

The GSMA started out as the GSM MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) Association. Its objectives were to:

• ease cooperation between countries deploying GSM (Global System for Mobile) technology,
• uphold standards,
• support interoperability,
• encourage innovation within the industry.

GSM soon became the global standard for mobile communications, achieving over 90% of market share across the world and giving mobile phone users the best experience possible.

Today, the GSMA still facilitates protocols and standards in mobile technology, from 4G and 5G, to 6G and beyond. It also fosters ingenuity and collaboration through the global MWC series of events, which brings the mobile ecosystem and related industries together.

As the connectivity industry has grown and evolved, so has the GSMA. Take a look at key developments in the history of our organisation.

A timeline of our history


Groupe Speciale Mobile (GSM) is formed by the Confederation of European Posts and Telecommunications (CEPT) to design a pan-European mobile technology.


France and Germany sign a joint development agreement for GSM.


‘GAP’ (Groupe d’Analyse et de Prevision’) meetings take place that lead to the European Commission endorsement of the GSM project.


EU heads of state endorse the GSM project. The European Commission initiative proposes to reserve a 900 MHz spectrum band for GSM, agreed in the EC Telecommunications Council.


Basic parameters of the GSM standard are agreed in February.

Four ministers from the quadripartite countries agree a proposal to create an Operator Agreement in the form of a ‘Memorandum of Understanding’. The ‘MoU’ is drawn up and signed in Copenhagen in September, by 15 members from 13 countries that commit to deploying GSM.


Completion of the first set of detailed GSM specifications for infrastructure tendering purposes.


Groupe Speciale Mobile (transferred to a European Telecom Standards Institute (ETSI) technical committee) defines the GSM standard as the internationally accepted digital cellular telephony standard.

The UK’s Department of Trade & Industry (DTI) produces a document ‘Phones on the Move’ that first proposes PCN (Personal Communications Networks – later known as DCS 1800 and subsequently GSM 1800) networks to operate in the 1800 MHz frequency band.


GSM adaptation work starts for the DCS1800 band.


First GSM call made by Radiolinja in Finland.


First international roaming agreement signed between Telecom Finland and Vodafone UK.

First SMS sent.


Telstra Australia becomes the first non-European operator to sign the GSM MoU.

32 networks are now on air in 18 countries or territories.

First truly hand portable terminals launch commercially.

World’s first DCS1800 (later GSM1800) network opens in the UK.


GSM Phase two data/fax bearer services launch.

GSM MoU membership surpasses 100 operators.

GSM connections hit one million.


GSM MoU group is formally registered as the GSM MoU Association in Switzerland.

Global GSM subscribers exceed 10 million.

GSM World Congress is held in Madrid, Spain.

Formation of GSMA Regional Interest Groups (RIGs).

Fax, data and SMS services are started, video over GSM demonstrated.

The first North American PCS 1900 (now GSM 1900) network opens – via a phone call by US Vice President Al Gore.


First GSM networks in Russia and China go live.

Prepaid GSM SIM cards launch.

GSM MoU membership approaches 200 operators from nearly 100 countries.

167 networks live in 94 countries.

GSM World Congress moves to Cannes, France.

GSM subscribers hit 50 million.

GSMA Awards launch.


15 GSM networks are on air in the USA using the 1900 MHz band.

100 countries on air globally.

First tri-band handsets launch.


Global GSM connections surpass 100 million.


WAP trials begin in France and Italy.

Contracts placed for GPRS systems.


Global mobile connections reach 0.7 billion.

Unique subscribers hit 0.6 billion.

First commercial GPRS services launch.

3G licence auctions begin.

First GPRS handsets enter the market.

Five billion SMS messages are sent in one month.


Global mobile connections reach 1 billion.

Unique subscribers hit 0.8 billion.

First 3G WCDMA (3GSM) network goes live.

3GSM World Congress held in Cannes, France.

50 billion SMS messages sent in the first three months.

GSM connections exceed 500 million.

First mobile phone colour screens launch.


Global mobile connections reach 1.2 billion.

Unique subscribers hit 0.9 billion.

GSM introduced for 800 MHz band.

First Multimedia Messaging Services (MMS) go live.

95% of nations worldwide have GSM networks.

400 billion SMS messages sent in the year.

First mobile camera phones launch.


Global mobile connections reach 1.4 billion.

Unique subscribers hit 1.1 billion.

First EDGE networks go live.

The GSMA creates a new CEO-level board.

GSMA membership exceeds 200 countries.

Over half a billion handsets are produced in a year.


Global mobile connections reach 1.7 billion.

Unique subscribers hit 1.3 billion.

GSM connections surpass 1 billion.

More than 50 WCDMA networks are live.

GSMA and Ovum announce a market-data venture: Wireless Intelligence.


Global mobile connections reach 2.2 billion.

Unique subscribers hit 1.6 billion.

More than 1.5 billion GSM connections.

GSM accounts for three-quarters of the global mobile market.

First HSDPA network goes live.

Over 100 WCDMA networks launch.

120+ WCDMA handset models launch.

First sub-$30 mobile phone announced.

Over one trillion SMS are sent in the year.


Global mobile connections reach 2.7 billion.

Unique subscribers hit 1.8 billion.

GSM surpasses 2 billion connections.

Over 120 commercial WCDMA networks are live in more than 50 countries, creating almost 100 million connections.

Approximately 85 HSDPA networks launch commercially by year end.

66 HSDPA devices available from 19 suppliers, including 32 handset models.

GSMA membership exceeds 900 companies (including over 700 operators).

Over 980 million handsets sold.


Global mobile connections reach 3.4 billion.

Unique subscribers hit 2 billion.

Further HSDPA network launches and introduction of HSUPA.

First GSMA Mobile Asia Congress held in Macau SAR, China.

GSMA celebrates its 20th anniversary.


Global mobile connections reach 4 billion.

Unique subscribers hit 2.3 billion.

HSPA surpasses 50 million connections.

191 HSPA networks live and 740 HSPA devices available.

More than 55,000 visitors to the GSMA’s Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

4G-LTE standards completed.

GSMA passes a resolution enabling LTE operators to join the Association.


Global mobile connections reach 4.7 billion.

Unique subscribers hit 2.6 billion.

First commercial HSPA+ network launches.

Mobile Asia Congress held in Hong Kong.

First commercial LTE networks launch.

More than 165 million HSPA connections worldwide.

285 HSPA commercial networks supported by more than 1,600 HSPA devices.


Global mobile connections reach 5.4 billion.

Unique subscribers hit 2.8 billion.

More than 300 million HSPA connections worldwide.

162 HSPA networks and 52 HSPA+ networks live.

17 LTE commercial LTE networks.

1.6 billion worldwide mobile device sales to end users.



More than 60,000 visitors to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Anne Bouverot appointed as Director General of the GSMA.

The GSMA selects Barcelona as the Mobile World Capital.

More than 500 million HSPA connections worldwide.


Global mobile connections reach 6 billion.

Unique subscribers hit 3 billion.

More than 60,000 visitors to the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona.

Anne Bouverot appointed as Director General of the GSMA.

The GSMA selects Barcelona as the Mobile World Capital.

More than 500 million HSPA connections worldwide.


Global mobile connections reach 6.5 billion.

Unique subscribers hit 3.2 billion.

GSMA celebrates its 25th anniversary.

Mobile World Congress attracts 67,000 visitors in its final year at Fira de Barcelona Montjuic.

The first Mobile Asia Expo held in Shanghai, China, attracts 15,500 visitors. 20th anniversary of the first SMS message (December 1992).


Global mobile connections reach 6.8 billion.

Unique subscribers hit 3.5 billion.

Mobile broadband connections surpass 2 billion.

Launch of Mobile World Centre in Barcelona.

Mobile World Congress relocates to Fira Gran Via in Barcelona and attracts a record 72,000 visitors.

20,500 visitors to Mobile Asia Expo 2013.

Launch of GSMA Intelligence.

GSMA launches ‘Mobile 360’ event series.

Telenor President and CEO Jon Fredrik Baksaas elected as GSMA chairman.

More than 250 LTE networks live in almost 100 countries. 219 Mobile Money services launch across 84 countries.


Global mobile connections reach 7.3 billion.

Unique subscribers hit 3.6 billion.

LTE connections surpass 500 million.

M2M connections surpass 250 million.

85,000 visitors to Mobile World Congress 2014.

26,000 visitors to Mobile Asia Expo in Shanghai.


Global mobile connections reach 7.5 billion.

Unique subscribers hit 4.5 billion.

4G connections reach one billion.

More than 93,000 visitors to Mobile World Congress 2015.

Barcelona confirmed as Mobile World Capital through to 2023.

Launch of Humanitarian Connectivity Charter.

40,000+ visitors attend first Mobile World Congress, Shanghai.

First commercial launches of GSMA Embedded SIM specification (eSIM).

GSMA successfully lobbies for release of additional mobile spectrum at WRC-15.


Global mobile connections reach 7.9 billion.

Unique subscribers hit 4.8 billion.

More than 100,000 visitors attend Mobile World Congress 2016.

GSMA’s Mobile IoT Initiative drives adoption of standardised LPWA solutions.

More than 53,000 visitors to Mobile World Congress Shanghai.

GSMA and CTIA partner to launch new Mobile World Congress Americas event.

Mobile industry commits to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

GSMA Mobile Connect available to 3 billion consumers globally.

GSMA launches Universal Profile for Advanced Messaging.

GSMA publishes its first ‘Mobile Industry Impact Report’ on the SDGs.

Mats Granryd joins the GSMA as Director General.


Unique subscribers surpass 5 billion.

Sunil Bharti Mittal begins two-year term as GSMA chair.

Number of registered mobile money accounts reaches half a billion.

More than 108,000 visitors attend Mobile World Congress 2017.

The GSMA is certified as carbon neutral for all GSMA events and worldwide offices for 2016.

More than 67,400 visitors to Mobile World Congress Shanghai.
More than 21,000 attendees visit inaugural “Mobile World Congress Americas, in partnership with CTIA”.


107,000 visitors attend Mobile World Congress Barcelona.

Almost 22,000 visitors attend Mobile World Congress Americas, in partnership with CTIA in Los Angeles.

More than 60,000 visitors to Mobile World Congress Shanghai.

GSMA launches Global Mobile Money Certification Scheme.

Over 690 million mobile money accounts worldwide.

GSMA and W20 announce call to action to close digital gender gap ahead of G20 summit.

First GSMA We Care Initiative launches in Kenya, focusing on online child protection.

GSMA and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) launch ‘Mobile for Humanitarian Innovation’.

Expansion of regional office in New Delhi to support growing India mobile market. 4G population coverage increases from 36% to 72%, covering an additional 2.8 billion people.


Almost 110,000 visitors attend Mobile World Congress Barcelona.

More than 75,000 visitors to Mobile World Congress Shanghai.

Almost 22,000 visitors attend Mobile World Congress Americas, in partnership with CTIA in Los Angeles.

International spectrum treaty adopted by the World Radiocommunication Conference 2019 (WRC-19) opens door to new 5G services.


January 2020 the GSMA board takes the difficult decision to cancel Mobile World Congress 2020, recognising the risk of the emerging pandemic.

74.2m impacted by M4D programmes.

5.2bn mobile connections covered by operators with climate disclosure and/or science-based targets.

CEO of Orange Group, Stéphane Richard re-elected as GSMA Board Chair and Chief Strategy Officer of Verizon, Rima Qureshi, is elected as Board Deputy Chair

3.8 billion people now using mobile internet. (GSMA Intelligence)


20,000 people attend MWC Barcelona in-person, and the event sees around 100,000 unique virtual and daily viewers on MWC21 and partner platforms.

MWC Shanghai attracts 25,000 physical and virtual attendees.

José María Álvarez-Pallete López, CEO of Telefónica Group, elected as GSMA Board Chair and Gopal Vittal, CEO of Bharti Airtel Group as Deputy Chair.

GSMA M4D Foundation announces John Giusti as its next President.


More than 61,000 visitors attend MWC Barcelona.

Inaugural MWC Kigali.

82,000 visitors attend MWC Las Vegas, in partnership with CTIA.

MWC Shanghai postponed to 2023.


More than 88,500 visitors attend MWC Barcelona.

Almost 37,000 visitors to MWC Shanghai, 10th anniversary edition.

More than 8,000 visitors attend MWC Las Vegas.

220m impacted by M4D programmes.

December 2023 GSMA emerges from three-year, post-pandemic financial recovery programme ahead of target and with resilient reserves.