What is a 3G Network?
Third-generation or 3G, also known as IMT 2000, is a family of radio interfaces which evolved from previous generations to facilitate wider range of services and advanced network capacity. According to the definition of ITU (International Telecommunications Union), 3G includes the following technologies:
• EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution)
• CDMA 2000 (Code Division Multiple Access)
• UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System)
• DECT (Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications)
• WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access)
Based on the International Telecommunications Union standards, the 3G network is the third generation of mobile networking and telecommunications. It features a wider range of services and advances network capacity over the previous 2G network. The 3G network also increases the rate of information transfer known as spectral efficiency. Telephony has received a wider area and more range, while video and broadband wireless data transfers have also been positively affected. These criteria are identified as the IMT-2000 standard.
A 3G network provides for download speeds of 14.4 megabits per second and upload speeds of 5.8 megabits per second. The minimum speed for a stationary user is 2 megabits per second. A user in a moving vehicle can expect 348 kilobits per second.
This scheme is known as a layered system. Each transmission features three layers of information. The top layer is general service. The middle layer is a control data transmission. The bottom layer is the basic connectivity information.
There is a distinct difference from WiFi, or IEEE 802.11 technology, and this network. WiFi is basically a short range network that offers high-bandwidth designed for data transfer. 3G networks are geared towards cellular telephone technology and Internet access.
Japan and South Korea were the first countries to successfully launch this network. The Japanese company FOMA launched in May 2001 and South Korea's SK Telecom launched in January 2002. British Telecom in the United Kingdom and Monet Mobile Networks in the United States followed suit. By 2007, most countries had implemented the technology.Concept:3G
Mobile telephones, the 1st generation of which were introduced in the mid-1980's, have been constantly evolving since their inception. Today, over 2B mobile phones are in usage and around 80% of the world's population is within reach of a mobile phone signal). Mobile phones have traditionally been used for voice communications, but today can serve as the platform for a variety of communication outputs -- including data and video. 3G is the third-generation of mobile phone technology standards. The typical services associated with 3G include wireless voice telephony and broadband wireless data, all in a mobile environment. However, with the capability for high-speed wireless data transfer, 3G has enhanced or made possible a myriad of additional applications such as mobile video, secure mobile ecommerce, location-based services, mobile gaming and audio on demand. For example, using 2.5G (or a slightly better version of second-generation wireless) a three-minute song takes between six and nine minutes to download. Using 3G, it can download in 11 to 90 seconds.
There are currently almost 100 million 3G wireless subscribers worldwide. The US, with over 200 million mobile subscribers, crossed the 10% mark for 3G penetration for the first time in 2006, while Japan stayed in the lead with over 50% of its subscribers using 3G phones. As 3G adoption accelerates, 3G carriers, handset manufacturing, infrastructure equipment makers, semiconductor OEM's, and 3G application providers stand to gain. Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISP's), carriers without the wherewithal or financial resources to upgrade their networks, and companies that provide services which are standard under 3G (i.e., email access), will be in a position to lose.
While the 3G market may be definitely gaining traction, the industry is rapidly approaching a crossroads, where the needs of different market segments can vary substantially, and the potential rewards (and losses) for the different technology vendors and mobile communications operators could be substantial.Drivers of 3G Adoption
• Consumer demand for more robust wireless data services: Declining voice revenues have pushed carriers to consider alternative revenue generating opportunities, and they are responding by offering more data services made possible by 3G technology. Mobile video, music downloads, e-mail, messaging, location-based services and Internet surfing are just a sample of the many new applications users will have access to. Each time a mobile customer uses one of these applications, mobile carriers typically get a cut of fees. For example, in Japan, the untapped market for data services which will be further tapped with increased 3G adoption--where there is 50% 3G penetration--almost 30% of the average revenue per user (ARPU) is generated from data services, with the remaining 70% from voice. Compare that to the US--with about 10% 3G penetration--which on average has 12% data service ARPU. This shows that there is still action.
• Upgrading infrastructure investment: The faster 3G networks are deployed, the faster 3G adoption rates will rise. Upgrading legacy networks to accommodate 3G technology is very costly. In the United States alone, Verizon Wireless, Sprint Nextel (S) and Cingular have spent a combined $10 billion on building their 3G networks. The carriers that can spend this kind of money will gain a competitive advantage over those that can't.
• 3G spectrum licensing fees: Spectrum is the specific frequency used by carriers to transmit data wirelessly. To own and run a proprietary network, a wireless carrier has to rent the frequencies from the government. Recently, mobile operators have had to pay phenomenal rents in auctions for 3G spectrum licenses. High license acquisition costs are limiting the number of carriers that can participate in 3G.
• Technology maturity: The maturity (or immaturity) of underlying 3G technology is a critical factor that ultimately determines when and how, not to mention if, the technology is widely adopted. The key to investors, therefore, is to understand and appreciate the complexities of each 3G technology and the progress that the various companies are making towards mainstream adoption. Be it W-CDMA, UMTS, HSPA, or EV-DO -- different carriers are deploying different technologies at various stages of maturity. Understanding technology nuances will help investors predict 3G winners.
• Growth of mobile in China and India: India's mobile base is about 127 million, meaning that only about 13% of the Indian population currently uses a mobile phones. International markets, such as China and India, can greatly drive adoption of 3G services as these regions continue to see the highest growth rates in mobile adoption.
Who Stands to Gain from 3G Adoption
Ericsson (ERIC), Alcatel-Lucent (ALU), Nokia (NOK), and Siemens AG (SI) are network infrastructure manufacturers that combined, dominate more than 70% of the worldwide mobile backbone equipment market. As 3G networks are deployed and expanded, so will the demand for their products.
AT&T (T), Sprint Nextel (S), T-mobile USA, Hutchison Whampoa Ltd, and Verizon Communications (VZ) are network operators who are evolving networks from the second generation of technologies to the third generation technologies, could see network usage (and hence, revenues) skyrocket with accelerated 3G adoption. About 210 cellular carriers worldwide have either deployed 3G or will do so very shortly. This market is filled with players, who vary widely across the globe.
Samsung and Motorola (MOT) are mobile handset manufacturers that will see demand increase as consumers buy 3G-compliant handsets and accessories. Most users will be required to upgrade their current mobile phones if they want to take advantage of the data services 3G can offer. 3G phones, as a result of their enhanced capabilities, are more expensive than their predecessors. Higher phone costs give OEM's an additional revenue opportunity.
Broadcom (BRCM) and QUALCOMM (QCOM) are semiconductor OEMs which manufacturer 3G-compliant chipsets. Demand for their products will surge with increased 3G handset penetration.
Yahoo! (YHOO) and Apple (AAPL) are 3G application partners that play an integral role in the 3G service value chain, as they partner with carriers to offer content (i.e. movie trailers) and content delivery platforms (iTunes music store) to end users. Electronic Arts (ERTS), which sells mobile games in a 38 million-person mobile gaming market,could benefit with increased customer demand because of the higher gaming speeds allowed by 3G.
The convergence of entertainment, telecommunications, software, and data services is all happening at the mobile device and the various stakeholders in each of those ecosystems stand to gain.
Who Stands to Lose from 3G Adoption
EarthLink (ELNK) is a wireless Internet service provider (WISP) that operates hotspots. Such companies could see demand for their services decrease if 3G enabled EV-DO, a substitute technology for Internet access, continues to see accelerated adoption.
Research in Motion (RIMM) is a 2G-based service provider that may not be able to successfully make the transition to 3G and keep their business models in tact. RIMM, the maker of the popular Blackberry email service could become less valuable if all 3G devices can speedily access email via the Internet (which was previously not the case). Note: Blackberry has incorporated 3g technology as fast or even faster than rival handset makers. They are actually the leader in providing 3G and pre 4G data services for the business community.
Nortel Networks (NT) - Provides companies with networking solutions. Nortel has invested heavily in 4G technology. The continued growth of 3G may significantly delay the wide spread adoption of 4G. Smaller Carriers, who may not be able to absorb the high network upgrade costs associated with 3G will be at a competitive disadvantage as larger operator's networks become more advanced. If an increasing number of customers begin to adopt 3G, than these companies could see their businesses disrupted.
3G phone network standards vary by carrier
If you’re among the growing number of Americans using the Web or e-mail on your phone, the quality of that experience depends on your cell phone company's data network. Wireless carriers all make similar promises of blazingly fast mobile Internet, even more so now with 3G, or third-generation, wireless.
A speedy network with a strong signal brings faster-loading Web pages, quick e-mail delivery and smoother video streams on the go. Of course, sluggish data speeds and lousy network coverage means you'll likely wait until you get to work or home before jumping online via computer.
So what are the differences between the mobile Internet technologies and networks of AT&T, Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile, the four major carriers in the United States?
T-Mobile and AT&T both use the GSM, or Global System for Mobile communications, standard, and the most popular form of cellular technology in the world by a wide margin. The GSM Association estimates more than 80 percent of cell phones worldwide are GSM.
In the other corner are Sprint and Verizon Wireless. Both carriers use CDMA-based cellular technology, short for Code Division Multiple Access.
Both GSM and CDMA are 2G, or second-generation, wireless technologies that use digital radio signals to transmit data. First-generation systems were based on analog radio and, compared to digital, were plagued by audio interference and high power requirements on cell phones.
To answer the growing demand for data services like multimedia messaging, e-mail and Web browsing, the GSM and CDMA carriers came up with their own solutions.
3G, as in iPhone 3G, is an abbreviation used for the third generation of cellular phones and networks. Starting in late 2006, Verizon Wireless and Sprint made a transition to 3G EV-DO (Evolution Data Optimized) directly, while AT&T and T-Mobile both followed a more complicated route.
Before AT&T and T-Mobile began rolling out 3G network services (AT&T is currently expanding its nationwide 3G coverage, while T-Mobile has only just started), both carriers introduced interim standards to handle voice and data transmission.
GPRS (Global Packet Radio Service) and later EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) allowed for data speeds ranging from a pokey 32 kilobits per second to near-3G speeds.
3G speeds vary
Minimum 3G data download speeds aren't clearly defined, but are often pegged at between 128 and 384 kilobits per second. That’s still slow compared to a household 802.11g Wi-Fi network, which has a maximum data rate of 54 megabits per second.
For those who use the iPhone, a Web page loads about twice as fast on Apple’s new iPhone with the 3G radio turned on, compared to the original phone’s 2G EDGE speeds. (Since the iPhone 3G went on sale July 11, some owners have complained that the 3G network is not working as fast as was promised.)
Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service (UMTS) is the standard that AT&T and T-Mobile are employing for their 3G services, although AT&T is using a faster variant called High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA).
Marin Perez, InformationWeek.com’s associate editor and mobile industry expert, said Sprint's EV-DO 3G network, in its updated Rev. A form, transmits data at speeds up to 3.1 megabits per second. The company’s iPhone competitor, the Samsung Instinct, is the flagship of Sprint’s 3G phone lineup.
“Sprint has a wide, if not (the) widest 3G network of the carriers,” he said.
Verizon Wireless also uses a “fast” 3G, EV-DO Rev. A network “that's taking longer than expected to roll out,” he said. “Devices like the LG Venus, Rumor, and Dare, and even the Samsung Glyde, are helping the carrier attract data-heavy users.”
AT&T, exclusive carrier of the iPhone in the United States, uses UMTS/HSDPA, with peak data speeds of 3.6 megabits per second. By the end of the year, AT&T plans to have 3G coverage in 350 U.S. markets, including the 100 largest U.S. cities.
“AT&T has the handset everyone wants, but their 3G network is still smaller than Sprint’s,” Perez said.
T-Mobile begins rollout
Earlier this year, T-Mobile introduced its UMTS 3G network, with undisclosed data speeds, in New York, Las Vegas, San Antonio and Austin, and plans to add 20 more cities this year.
“T-Mobile's 3G network is still in its infant stages,” said Perez. The carrier may be the first in the United States to use devices with Android, Google’s mobile platform that has been in development for a few years.
“Some fancy Android devices may help spur the rollout, but it'll take time and money to have a large 3G footprint,” he said.
Having 3G networks in place, however, does not guarantee that wireless customers will want to use them. Forty million people, or 15.6 percent of the 245 million mobile subscribers in the United States, paid for mobile Internet services and used them at least once in the past month, according to a July report by Nielsen Mobile. That places the United States at No. 1 in the world for mobile Internet use.
However, an even greater number, 57 percent, or 144 million mobile customers, use data, including text messaging, and the mobile Web, according to the Nielsen Mobile report.
So what's standing in the way of broader acceptance of the kinds of data-intensive applications such as Web browsing and mobile TV that 3G networks are designed to facilitate?
“3G extras are expensive, adding as much as $60 per month over the cost of standard service,” said industry analyst Jack Plunkett of Plunkett Research.
Cell-phone Network Technologies: 3G
3G technology is the latest in mobile communications. 3G stands for "third generation" -- this makes analog cellular technology generation one and digital/PCS generation two. 3G technology is intended for the true multimedia cell phone -- typically called smartphones -- and features increased bandwidth and transfer rates to accommodate Web-based applications and phone-based audio and video files.
3G comprises several cellular access technologies. The three most common ones as of 2005 are:
• CDMA2000 - based on 2G Code Division Multiple Access (see Cellular Access Technologies)
• WCDMA (UMTS) - Wideband Code Division Multiple Access
• TD-SCDMA - Time-division Synchronous Code-division Multiple Access
3G networks have potential transfer speeds of up to 3 Mbps (about 15 seconds to download a 3-minute MP3 song). For comparison, the fastest 2G phones can achieve up to 144Kbps (about 8 minutes to download a 3-minute song). 3G's high data rates are ideal for downloading information from the Internet and sending and receiving large, multimedia files. 3G phones are like mini-laptops and can accommodate broadband applications like video conferencing, receiving streaming video from the Web, sending and receiving faxes and instantly downloading e-mail messages with attachments.
Of course, none of this would be possible without those soaring towers that carry cell-phone signals from phone to phone.
3G is a cell phone network protocol. Click here to learn about network protocols for Smartphones.
AT&T admits 3G network problems
AT&T has finally admitted what iPhone users have known all along – the existing AT&T 3G network never delivers ‘more bars in more places’ as users were promised.
In fact, AT&T admitted that their push to use the 1900 MHz band in many areas was ‘shortsighted’ and that they are upgrading the network and using 850MHz spectrum to beef up its 3G wireless network. This should help alleviate dropped calls and slow network connections for Apple iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS users.
Last weekend, Apple sold over a million of their new iPhone 3GS phones. Exactly how many of those phones were activated on AT&T’s network in the U.S. isn’t yet known, but certainly they are likely to put additional strain on the carrier’s network.
AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel revealed today that the company is ready for the onslaught of new iPhone users. One of the things it has been doing to prepare is upgrading its network so that it can offer 3G wireless service using its 850MHz spectrum licenses. Previously, AT&T had been using spectrum in the 1900 MHz band to deliver 3G services – but those have become saturated. As AT&T sells more 3G devices, such as the iPhone, it has been cramming more users into an ever more crowded spectrum.
This could explain why some users have complained of dropped calls and slow data connections. The problem has been particularly acute in cities, such as New York, San Francisco and Austin, where there is a concentrated base of iPhone users and where the 1900MHz spectrum is predominant. Siegel says that upgrading equipment to allow AT&T to use its 850MHz spectrum for 3G services should help relieve some of the congestion issues. And because the 850MHz spectrum is at the low end of the frequency band, it is able to travel longer distances and penetrate walls more easily than signals on the 1900MHz band.
When asked about problems with dropped calls for iPhone 3G users a year ago, Siegel reported that the company was working to expand the portion of its 3G network running on the 1900MHz band. Back then he downplayed the need for adding 850MHz spectrum for 3G services saying that it “doesn’t mean you can’t get a good experience on 1900MHz.”
Evidently AT&T now has second thoughts. Speaking today, Siegel now thinks that adding 850MHz will make a big improvement: “The 850 band, when it’s turned on in individual markets, people notice a big difference.” AT&T is also planning yet another migration, this time to HSDPA technology, which may someday double download speeds on AT&T’s network.
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