Telenor launched Hungary’s first commercial GSM service 25 years ago

From 2G to 5G: the evolution of mobile technology

Using a mobile phone was a privilege 25 years ago. With peak-time calls being more expensive, you thought twice before making a phone call those days. Mobile technology has developed tremendously over the past two and a half decades. Today, it is used by nearly everyone to reach their goals in one way or another. In the 1990s, it took about 11 minutes to download the data volume of a DVD, today this takes about 2 minutes on Telenor’s Hipernet network, and these 2 minutes will be further reduced to just 40 seconds with the adoption of 5G technology.

In August 1993, the winner of Hungary’s first GSM auction was announced. Surprisingly, Hungary’s first GSM concession was granted to an unlikely candidate, Scandinavian-owned Pannon GSM. In September, Pannon GSM had only a single employee. The concession company owned by 5 foreign telecommunications companies and 3 Hungarian businesses, was registered in November.

1994 The first Boeing 777 airliner rolled down from the assembly line, the rock band Rammstein was founded in Germany, and Michael Schumacher won his first Formula One Championship. 3 days ahead of its competitor, Telenor then named Pannon GSM launched Hungary’s first commercial GSM service with 22 base stations. Owning a mobile phone was a status symbol those days, and it was used for making phone calls only. While upon the launch of Hungary’s first GSM network, only voice calls were made and the SMS service was introduced only later, today the largest portion of traffic comes from mobile internet.

From voice to data

Mobile communications has grown continuously and at a fast pace for the past 25 years. In 1997, Telenor was the first operator to pilot prepaid cards in Hungary. Prepaid subscriptions peaked in 2003 when they accounted for 78.8% of all active subscriptions. Since then, due to the adoption of mobile internet and smartphones, the ratio of prepaid subscriptions has declined steadily reaching 43% in 2017.

SMS gained popularity in 1996 when customers exchanged about 100,000 text messages a month. Telenor’s network has transferred more than 9bn SMS messages over the past 25 years. The average number of voice minutes passed 10 million in 1996, while monthly traffic reached 100 million minutes in 2002. Since 2008, customers speak 400 million minutes per month on average. With the launch of unlimited tariffs, this volume got closer to 500 million.

In 2019, making voice calls is just one of the many functions offered by a mobile phone. While the 1990s were dominated by voice traffic, now data traffic takes the lead. Telenor launched its first tariff including a mobile internet data allowance in 2011. Average monthly data traffic exceeded 1 million GB in 2012. Since 2017, Telenor’s network has handled a monthly data volume of 5 to 7 million GB on average. Mobile internet data traffic has been growing steadily on the Hipernet network for years. In 2018, it was about the double of its level in 2017 reaching 10 million GB (10PB) per month in June.

5G in the backyard

The speed of Hungary’s 4G networks is outstandingly high even in global terms. Hungarian 4G networks are the third fastest in Europe and Hungary ranks in the top 3 also for coverage. As a result of major investment by Telenor, the operator’s 4G services are now available to 99% of Hungary’s population.

“25 years ago, the entry of Pannon GSM marked the beginning of competition in the Hungarian telecommunications market. Concepts such as customer service and customer centricity emerged at the same time. Although new trends have changed the market out of recognition since, our approach based on premium-quality customer service both in the business and consumer segments has remained the same. Our achievements in this field have recently been recognized with several awards by an independent organization”, said Győző Drozdy, Chief Corporate Affairs Officer of Telenor Hungary.

As a result of development completed in recent years, the services of Telenor’s mobile internet network leveraging the latest (4G and 4G+) technologies are available to 99.5% of Hungary’s population. 4G+technology offering a download rate of up to 300 Mbps is now supported by more than 1,000 Telenor base stations enabling customers with appropriate handsets to download data twice as fast as with 4G.

“5G will bring about a change in mobile technology similar to the 3G-to-4G shift. Enhanced quality will pave the way for new services and applications unprecedented in the market before. Operators will play an increasingly important role in supporting market players developing products and services based on the new technology. Being a mobile operator, we consider it our mission to enable market players to make the most of mobile networks – be them business partners or developers of educational applications”, said György Koller, Chief Technology Officer of Telenor.


  • When the company was established in 1994 the acronym GSM was put in its name because GSM was considered to be a very advanced technology those days. It offered much better voice quality compared to analogue mobile phones and GSM handsets were also much smaller than their analogue counterparts, especially in terms of antenna size.
  • Mobile phones became capable of exchanging photos in 2002.
  • During the Football World Cup in 2018, users spent more than 130 years combined watching the games on Telenor’s online television service Telenor MyTV.
  • In 2019, Telenor’s HiperSuli programme was formally accredited. As a result, it is now available as an official accredited teacher training programme to any teacher. While early in its history Telenor focused on services, now it also considers the social impact of mobile technology as a priority.
  • Customers have generated more than 76bn call minutes combined from Telenor’s network since the company was established.
  • Telenor’s network has managed a data traffic of 316 million GB to date.  If you wanted to store this data volume on pocket-sized 4TB hard disks, you would need more than 77,000 HDs.

Milestones: from 2G to 5G – facts and figures

Some handsets were mobile internet enabled already in the mid-1990s, but then it took nearly 15 minutes to download 1MB of data and you also had to pay a minute rate for it. With the launch of 2G GPRS technology in 2001, Telenor laid the foundations of packet-switched data transmission used also in today’s mobile internet networks. As a result, customers no longer had to pay a minute rate for using mobile internet. Mobile phones with a built-in camera and a colour display hit the market at the same time which enabled customers to send photos from their mobile phones.

3G service launched in 2005 increased data rates significantly. With this technology, the time required to download 1MB of data was reduced from 15 minutes to just 20 seconds. 3G was available in most parts of Budapest by the end of 2005. The speed of mobile internet increased 1,000-fold in just nine years. The download rate offered by Telenor was up from only 14.4 kbps in 1999 to 14.4 Mbps in 2008.

The 4G service has been implemented and enhanced since 2012. It offers customers low-cost Hipernet tariffs supporting high-intensity use throughout the month. In 2012, Telenor made Hipernet available to its customers in the entire metro network of Budapest. A year later, Telenor doubled its 4G speed and in 2015, it made 4G services with a download data rate of up to 150 Mbps available to all of its customers – using a 4G-enabled handset and SIM card.

While earlier, Telenor focused on implementing a technology that opened a new era in mobile communications and launching its communication services, now it leverages mobile technology to offer a range of products and services to its customers and make a difference in society.