To most of us in the technology circuit, the coming of 3G has been long awaited. The promise of faster mobile connectivity has been thrown in our faces constantly by the world around us and we sit here waiting… and waiting… and waiting… Well it looks like things have finally taken off. The spectrum has been distributed we’re already seeing the various operators scramble to get a leg up on each other. But what is 3G really? What does it bring to the table? Here’s a closer look.

Here’s the short version, 3G means faster connectivity to the internet via your mobile device, the chance to finally have a video call while traveling by train or standing on the beach and enjoying the sunshine, sending images, videos, emails et al, as fast as you would via your desk top. It’s a game changer.

Here’s the longer version…

Getting to 3G
3G is the result of nearly a decade of development and evolution of the GSM standard. It brings with it a host of changes, including near broadband-like data speeds, video conferencing – and adds a supercharge to video streaming A-GPS connectivity and pretty much anything you’d use your handset for to hook up to the net.

From big to slick

GSM was conceived in the early 80s as a common standard to be deployed across Europe. This required the cooperation of 13 countries and sharing of knowledge before the first network went live in 1991.

After that it went through a lean phase with adoption being slow, as there were a pressing number of issues such as excess traffic handling ability, lack of network security and cost of deployment. Another aspect was the fact that 1G networks were purely analog networks. Thanks to these, the towers for these networks had to be powerful and put out some strong signals for the (bulky!) handsets to receive them. The lack of mass adoption meant call rates were high.

The 3G map

But 2G followed and brought with it some late but necessary changes like increased traffic handling, improved call clarity and reduced power requirements, thus bringing forth the order of smaller, sleeker more versatile mobile handsets. The introduction of 2G was a catalyst for the explosion of the GSM phenomenon. The rapid pace of adoption saw the cost of equipment fall, and deployment costs going down rapidly. The most important fact of this particular generation was the emergence of text messaging, aka SMS. It became the one 'killer' feature on whose popularity alone GSM saw some explosive growth.

The net exploded on to the planet and took over became the medium of the masses to communicate, share information and more importantly to stay connected, creating online lifestyles. Mobile telephony was also gathering momentum and slowly but surely, was overtaking fixed line telephony. With these two options of communication, the urge to be connected while being mobile arose and that ushered in the age of WAP browsers and GPRS. Networks further evolved to support data connectivity, SMS wasn’t good enough anymore and MMS brought that little extra to the table allowing users to share more than just text and 2.5G was born.

However before the rise of the 3G evolution a transition was made from GPRS to EDGE or EGPRS (Enhanced GPRS), which meant GPRS on a Red Bull-like high. MMS boomed and mobile internet took off into the stratosphere.

How 3G works

This brings us to 3G. Technically it's a direct upgrade to EDGE networks, but it runs on a wholly different set of frequencies. It also employs a different underlying technology (WCDMA) and can make only part use of existing networks. Entirely new infrastructure has to be deployed for the successful roll out of 3G. With 3G we could finally see mobile internet reach its true potential. Staying connected meant a whole lot more than sending silly photos via MMS, it meant actually seeing someone who was miles away and having a conversation.

Number Portability, the ability to say ‘Scr** you!” to an operator who has tried your patience with bad reception and poor customer support, and switching over to any other network of your choice is also on it's way as well, another technology we've been so eagerly waiting on. Luckily we have so many operators. But at the end of the day you can keep the number you had, irrespective of the operator.

While the world may have moved on from 3G to 4G, at least in some parts, we’re still plagued by now average EDGE speeds. It’s been a long excruciating wait for 3G and although it may have been deployed already by BSNL and MTNL but is still limited to very specific areas of a few cities that include Mumbai and Delhi amongst a few others. It’s still not the whole ball of wax and we’re going to have to be patient a little while longer.

What 3G brings to the table
From video phone calls to using the Internet to make calls (VoIP) to wide-area wireless voice telephony and broadband wireless data services, 3G offers it all. Video calling, as great as it sounds may not always work in your best interest. Should you be in the middle of something indiscreet, the last thing you want to do is have whoever it is on the line see what’s going on. It could be your boss, wife, or worse still your mistress. But nevertheless it was the next step in mobile technology.

Number portablity

3G technology also makes it a lot easier for mobile service providers to easily support a larger amount of voice as well as data users. To give you a clearer view, these are some of the services that 3G, as a whole, offers users:

  • Mobile TV (DVBH)
  • Video calling, video mail and video conferencing
  • GPS and car navigation with faster A-GPS support
  • Digital catalog shopping
  • B2B applications
  • Remote medical diagnosis and education
  • Digital audio and video delivery
  • Mobile payment options get faster
  • Video streaming get’s much faster

To avail of these services, your mobile device has to, of course, be 3G compatible. But these days most are. Switching to a 3G way of life also requires a hefty investment from the service providers. The government has garnered revenue worth Rs. 67,719 Crores after the recent 3G auction was concluded and although we’re on the cusp of the 3G revolution, we’re still not quite there yet.

Various uses of 3G

While India takes its first 'baby' steps towards 3G, the rest of the world has moved on. 3G already has an upgrade – 3.5G. But come 2011 (hopefully sooner) we’ll see 3G fly. Don’t expect it to be affordable for the first six months to maybe even a year. We can only hope the fierce competition between the many many networks in the country will quickly see a reduction in 3G rates.

Here’s to the Third Generation, may you bring us all closer together, a whole lot faster and may you get here sooner than later.

For more information on the 3G revolution and all that transpired recently in the country go here.

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