A ‘third generation’ wireless communications technology having evolved from first generation analog, and second generation digital, communication technologies.
Whenever someone asks me to explain what 3G systems are, I tend to think of huge departmental stores. All your basic needs – plus a few extra items thrown in to spice things up – under a single roof. A plea to modern man’s psychological need for convenience. And that’s how it is with current crop of 3G packages. A simple, all-in-one access to everything users could ever want from a mobile phone (and then some).
But seriously now, what is 3G (or 2.5G for that matter)? Basically 3G systems are meant to be ultimate upgrade to current 2G systems that are operating under Global System of Mobile Communications (GSM). GSM is referred to as Second Generation (2G) of mobile phone technology, with old analog mobile phone system being first. Since current 2G phones send and receive data at only 9.6 Kilobits per second (kbps), advent of text and multimedia messaging (MMS) has meant that demand for drastically improved data transfer rates has been very strong.
3G 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, and theoretically going up to 2 Mbps. Very good, you might say. But why is there such a need for speed?
Well, 3G systems aim to provide faster access to all kinds of data, thus turning your wireless phone (or appliance) into a handier, cooler, tool. This speed is matched with promise that it will "keep people connected at all times and in all places." What results is capability to access Internet as you would at home, mobile instant messaging, enhanced multimedia options, usability as a fax/pager/e-mail tool, as well as obvious premise of crisper and more stable voice communications. Very impressive, but not without a lion’s share of problems.
For starters, 3G services are bound to be ‘expensive’, especially due to very high prices paid for 3G spectrum licenses. Secondly, services offered by 3G are nice, but are beyond current demands of average user. So now we have a situation where consumer is not satisfied with current level of service, yet is also balking at paying so much for something that resembles overkill.
To fill void, 2.5G has evolved. 2.5G radio transmission technology is radically different from 2G technology because it uses packet switching. GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) is European 2.5G standard, upgrade from GSM. GPRS overlays a packet-switched architecture onto GSM circuit-switched architecture. It is a useful evolutionary step on road to 3G because it gives telecommunications operators experience of operating packet networks, and charging for packet data. Data transfer rates in 2.5G services can theoretically reach 64Kbps.
It is important to note resulting irony. Because 3G services were too expensive and because market was not ‘ready’ for them, 2.5G evolved. Now, as it is said later, evolution of 2.5G has become an obstacle for 3G services to penetrate cell phone market.
However, 3G cannot be judged merely on basis of costs and services alone. The value of any consumer technology can only be truly measured in terms of its worth to average user. And when it comes to mobile communications, needs of ‘average’ customer are already being fulfilled through 2G and 2.5G. Most people do not need to use video conferencing or browse complete websites through their cell phones. Most of us are satisfied with constant coverage, provision to check our email and maybe send a voice message or so. With all of this available in quite affordable packages, experts are beginning to wonder whether there actually is massive demand to match hype that was created when 3G first came into picture.