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What is 3G

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3G (or 3-G) is short for third-generation technology. It is usually used in the context of cell phones. The services associated with 3G provide the ability to transfer both voice data (a telephone call) and non-voice data (such as downloading information, exchanging email, and instant messaging).

In marketing 3G services, video telephony has often been used as the flagship killer application for 3G. A certain euphoria was created, which led to huge spectrum-licensing fees in many countries, especially in Europe, where spectrum auctions generated many billions of euros for the respective countries. Since these spectrum licensing fees were collected many years before any income could be expected from 3G business, and since enormous investments are necessary to build the 3G networks, many telecommunication operators got into great financial difficulties, which greatly delayed 3G roll-out in all countries except Japan and South Korea, where such spectrum licensing fees were avoided since priority was set on national IT infrastructure development.

The first country which introduced 3G on a large commercial scale was Japan. In 2005 about 40% of subscribers use 3G networks only, and 2G is on the way out in Japan. It is expected that during 2006 the transition from 2G to 3G will be largely completed in Japan, and upgrades to the next 3.5G stage with 3 Mbit/s data rates is underway.

The successful 3G introduction in Japan shows that video telephony is not a killer application for 3G networks after all. Actually, the real-life usage of video telephony on 3G networks is only a small fraction of all services. On the other hand, downloading music finds very strong demand by customers. Music downloads were pioneered by KDDI with the EZchakuuta and the Chaku Uta Full services.

Next generation (3G) wireless networks are not IEEE 802.11 networks. IEEE 802.11 networks are short range, primarily internet access, networks while 3G wireless networks are the evolution of wide area cellular telephone networks which hope to incorporate high-speed internet access and video telephony to these networks.


It is estimated that there are about 60 3G networks in 25 countries around the world. In Asia, European and the USA, telecommunication companies use WCDMA technology with the support of around 100 terminal designs to operate 3G mobile networks.

In 2001, NTT DoCoMo - one of the giant telecommunication companies in Japan - was the first ever telecommunication company to launch a commercial WCDMA network. The introduction of 3G services within Europe began in early 2003.

The official 3G mobile network is the systems and services based on the ITU family of standards under the International Mobile Telecommunications programme, 'IMT-2000'. A boost was given to 3G mobile networks in Europe when the EU council suggested that the 3G operators should cover 80% of the European national populations by the end of 2005.


The most significant features offered by third generation (3G) mobile technologies are the momentous capacity and broadband capabilities to support greater numbers of voice and data customers - especially in urban centers - plus higher data rates at lower incremental cost than 2G.

By using the radio spectrum in bands identified which is provided by the ITU for Third Generation IMT-2000 mobile services, it subsequently licensed to operators, 3G uses 5 MHz channel carrier width to deliver significantly higher data rates and increased capacity compared with 2G networks.

The 5 MHz channel carrier provides optimum use of radio resources for operators who have been granted large, contiguous blocks of spectrum. On the other hand, it also helps to reduce the cost 3G networks while having the capable of providing extremely high-speed data transmission to users.

Besides that, it also allows the transmitting 384kbps for mobile systems and 2Mbps for stationary systems. 3G users are expected to have greater capacity and improved spectrum efficiency which allow them to access the global roaming between different 3G networkings.

Standard 3G

International Telecommunications Unit (ITU): IMT-2000 consists of five radio interfaces

  • W-CDMA
  • CDMA2000
  • UWC-136
  • DECT+


Even though 3G has successfully been introduced to the European mobile users, there are some issues that happened to be debated by the 3G providers and users.

  • The high input fees for the 3G service licenses;
  • The great differences in the licensing terms;
  • The current high debt of many telecommunication companies, making it more of a challenge to build the necessary infrastructure for 3G;
  • Member State support to the financially troubled operators;
  • Health aspects of the effects of electromagnetic waves;
  • 3G phones are expensive and bulky;
  • 2G mobile users still have not been convinced to use the 3G wireless service;
  • Lack of coverage because it is still new service;
  • High prices of 3G mobile services in some countries.

See also:

What is GSM
What is 2G
What is 4G
Evolution to 3G
About 3GSM
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