3G Wireless Breakout on the Horizon

January 14th, 2005

NY T imes SETH SCHIESEL wrote that, for 3G wireless services, “Finally, next year is now. ”

For consumers, that means video clips on demand, television, streaming music, satellite navigation and high-quality games, as well as the ability to record and send short movies. For business users, that means high-speed Internet access from a phone or a laptop without looking around for a Wi-Fi hot spot.

As many consumers now understand, there are two major competing cellphone technologies: the global system for mobile, or GSM, and code division multiple access, or CDMA. Cingular (which recently acquired AT&T Wireless) and T-Mobile use GSM. Verizon Wireless and Sprint use CDMA. (Nextel uses what amounts to its own proprietary system, developed with Motorola.)

Each of the major standards, GSM and CDMA, has its own set of technical tiers that allows the network to transmit larger amounts of data. For GSM carriers, the current second-generation data service is known as Edge. The CDMA counterpart is known as 1xRTT.

Cingular, Sprint and Verizon cover most of the country with their second-generation networks, and T-Mobile is working to expand its own Edge system. These technologies, whether GSM- or CDMA-based, can deliver data roughly two or three times as fast as a standard 56-kilobit dial-up modem, and are what have allowed the carriers to offer the new services of the past few years, like downloadable ring tones, text and rudimentary picture messaging and downloadable games of middling quality.

While second-generation networks might deliver about 150 kilobits of data per second, Verizon’s new system, which uses a third-generation CDMA add-on called EV-DO, delivers 300 kilobits or more of digital information. Users will have to purchase a new handset that is EV-DO compatible, but then they will be able to pay $15 a month for a new service called VCAST, which will include more than 300 daily video clips from channels and shows like CNN, NBC, ESPN and “Sesame Street.” The new network also supports other services, like high-resolution games, that will be priced individually.

Cingular, meanwhile, is building out its third-generation system, called UMTS, for universal mobile telecommunications system, and seems to be keeping many of its major new services under wraps until that network becomes available in most big cities next year (i.e. 2006).

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Entry Filed under: 3G Services,Technology

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