3G Wireless Networks: Hype and Reality, Part 2

In the December 6 edition of Mobile & Wireless UPDATE, I presented an overview of the wireless data industry, including a look at first-generation (1G), second-generation (2G), and third-generation (3G) wireless networks and some of the main ideas behind these technologies. In this UPDATE, I'll explain what 3G will mean for carriers and end users.

The appeal of 3G wireless networks is all about integrating voice and data services, and the voice services available on these networks will be similar to current Voice over IP (VoIP) technologies. Voice and data integration will let users send and receive data while talking on a voice call. For example, if you're using a mobile data application on your mobile device and someone calls you on that device, you'll be able to exit the data application, take and complete the phone call, then continue where you left off in the data application. Some 2.5G devices, such as the Ericsson t68 mobile phone, use Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) and General Packet Radio System (GPRS) to offer voice and data integration; however, voice calls on these devices are still circuit-switched.

For carriers planning to implement 3G services, voice and data integration will mean a completely new infrastructure with new base stations, new back-end network technology, and the need for more spectrum to support the higher bandwidth. Since the December 6 Mobile & Wireless UPDATE, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has said it will reallocate 48MHz of spectrum in the 698MHz-to-746MHz range for wireless carrier use. In many markets, TV channels 52 through 59 had previously used this spectrum. These channels will now be available only from cable TV providers. As I discussed in my last commentary, to fully implement 3G servers, carriers must have more spectrum. European and Asian governments have already allocated new spectrum through various auctions. However, some people doubt that carriers who paid high prices for the wireless spectrum will be able to profit from offering 3G services.

For users, 3G will mean new devices that support these new wireless network technologies. To take advantage of 3G wireless connectivity, you'll need to subscribe to specific data services. Determining which services you'll need will depend on how much bandwidth you require. New devices built to take advantage of 3G technology will include smart phones and PDAs that feature Bluetooth technology and other integrated functionality.

A few readers have asked about 2.5G and 3G services and what they'll mean for coverage. For instance, several large markets currently lack services (e.g., Atlanta has no Cellular Digital Packet Data—CDPD—coverage). In Europe and Asia, 2.5G and 3G services will mirror existing coverage because those parts of the world have already standardized on GSM. In the United States, 2.5 and 3G services should standandardize the technology that carriers use. As a result, coverage should improve during the coming years in the US markets. Also, VoiceStream and AT&T Wireless Services now feature GSM wireless networks, which will continue to make national and international roaming even more practical. In 2 weeks, I'll continue to look at 3G networks—I'll discuss the two main emerging 3G technologies (CDMA2000 and UMTS/WCDMA) and how different carriers will migrate to these new technologies.

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