3G Wireless

3G wireless is coming, first abroad then here, bringing with it much faster speeds. But some worry if the applications are ready for it.

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There are three predominant wireless standards in the U.S.: Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) and Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM). There are also at least two 3G standards in the works: W-CDMA and CDMA2000.

Europe relies entirely on GSM, which some analysts say is superior to the U.S. approach because of the uniformity of the network. The push for 3G in Japan is especially pronounced. Analysts say that's because Japan has so many nonstandard proprietary systems and radio spectrum is being used up.

Service in the U.S. is fragmented because the Federal Communications Commission originally sold separate digital wireless licenses in dozens of markets, mainly to generate income for the government, says Alan Reiter, an analyst at Wireless Internet and Mobile Computing in Chevy Chase, Md.

"The FCC did the American public a disservice by issuing licenses in each market, so we have three standards and don't have coverage or penetration," he says. "The FCC certainly could have issued half a dozen licenses for nationwide service, but didn't."

But some analysts say the FCC's actions were aimed at promoting competition.

First-generation wirelessAMPSAdvanced Mobile Phone Service
  • Analog voice service
  • No data service
  • Second-generation wirelessCDMACode Division Multiple Access
  • Digital voice service
  • 9.6K to 14.4K bit/sec.
  • CDMA, TDMA and PDC offer one-way data transmissions only
  • Enhanced calling features like caller ID
  • No always-on data connection
  • TDMATime Division Multiple Access
    GSMGlobal System for Mobile Communications
    PDCPersonal digital cellular
    Third-generation wirelessW-CDMAWide-band Code Division Multiple Access
  • Superior voice quality
  • Up to 2M bit/sec. always-on data
  • Broadband data services like video and multimedia
  • Enhanced roaming
  • CDMA-2000Based on the Interim Standard-95 CDMA standard

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