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All about 3G

Can you please answer the following questions regarding 3G (third-generation) wireless technology:
  1. What are the benefits of using 3G to access the Internet?
  2. What is 3G's impact on the market?
  3. What are some of the competing technologies now and in the future?
I'm always willing talk about my generation, or at least to discuss wireless services that promise to hop to more aggressive and faster types of wireless technology. First of all, let's be perfectly clear on what exactly is meant by "3G services." Basically, these systems are designed to offer increased voice capacity and higher-speed data rates by providing a more robust wireless pipeline. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a regulatory and standards-setting body, states that any system claiming to be 3G must be capable of a minimum speed of 144K bits/second -- pretty perky, but no way near the theoretical rate of 802.11-type wireless LAN systems (11 Mbps with 802.11b and up to five times faster with 802.11g).

The benefit of 3G systems is that they provide faster access to all types of data, and therefore expands the utility of your wireless phone and appliance. This makes for a more pleasurable Internet browsing experience as well, although again it is not comparable to WLANs and broadband access rates. A lot of people also prefer 2.5G (64 Kbps) and 3G systems over 802.11 networks since they an be used to access email and data when there are no Wi-Fi hotspots available. Some uses even prefer the billing scheme of cellular wireless, since it avoids the need for multiple 802.11 subscriptions, or outrageously-priced single-day passes.

3G is expected to have a sizeable impact on the cell phone market, although not as great as initially expected. In fact, some critics argue that 2.5G speed are just fine, thank you, and provide enough flexibility for most applications. This hasn't stopped wireless carriers from pouring money into developing and launching 3G systems, though. One of the most prevalent technologies is called EDGE, or Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution, which has been adopted by about 60 wireless carriers worldwide. Most of these systems are being used for consumer gaming and multimedia applications, however. Companies like Qualcomm and Verizon are also experimenting with faster systems that can be used for remote data collection applications, specifically for use by utility companies.

In terms of competing technologies, not only are there various flavors of 2.5G and 3G available, but WLAN systems are getting faster and becoming more robust. There are plans to develop 802.11 systems that approach 1.5 Mbps in theoretical speeds. Intel and others are also looking into developing metropolitan area networks (MANs) that expand that 300 feet Wi-Fi bubble to about 30 miles, or across an entire city. Systems like this are expected to compete with 2.5G and 3G cellular. The reality is that we will eventually be using multiple networks to access data and download that movie trailer onto our PDA, so we won't really think about which pipeline is being used to direct the flow of that information.


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