By Ben Patterson (February 22, 2005; updated March 4, 2008) For the past few years, cellular carriers and handset manufacturers have talked a lot about third-generation (3G) services
for mobile phones. Despite all the talk, however, the companies haven't done a particularly good job of explaining what it all means. To many customers, the real meaning of 3G has been lost among promises of video features and zippy data speeds--promises that are only now beginning to live up to reality. Yet the question still remains: What exactly is 3G?
Simply put, 3G cellular technology will bring wireless broadband data services to your mobile phone. Boasting speeds from 144Kbps (roughly three times faster than a 56K dial-up modem connection) to 2.4Mbps (close to cable-modem speed), 3G networks let you speed through Web pages, enjoy streaming music video, watch on-demand video programming, download and play 3D games, and videoconference with your fellow chatterers. There's even an up-and-coming 3.5G standard called HSDPA that boosts speeds to as fast as 7.2 Mbps, (with promises of 14.4 Mbps speeds in the near future). While the interface is undoubtedly different on a cell phone, the experience of surfing, downloading, and streaming stands to be very close to that of a broadband connection on a computer.
Sound good? Well, yes, it does. You'll pay for the services, of course, but stateside users have finally begun to catch up with their European and Asian counterparts. To date, three major carriers have introduced 3G services, and a solid assortment of 3G-enabled handsets are now available. Verizon Wireless was first to market in early 2005, followed by Sprint and most recently Cingular (now known as AT&T). T-Mobile has promised to roll out its 3G network starting in the summer of 2008. At present, you'll need to be in an urban area to really partake in 3G, but most carriers plan nationwide rollout eventually.
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Types of 3G
Not all high-speed technologies are the same.