Third generation or 3G networks represent an international standard for wide-area cellular networks that are replacing 2G networks. The main advantage of these networks is use of a wider radio spectrum resulting in faster data transmission for advanced multimedia services and a larger network capacity. Carriers can deliver these advantages at a reduced cost compared to 2G network technologies, though physical implementation of a 3G network can be expensive in some cases.
3G networks represent the natural evolution from previous standards. Increasingly cellular phones and handheld mobile devices have incorporated additional services to telephony. Today’s mobile devices offer high-speed World Wide Web access, emailing, messaging, video phone and multimedia services. People want to be able to watch streaming movies on their cellular phones, download and play music, store data and share files with other cellular users. 3G networks offer faster, slicker ways to do this.
These networks have been in operation globally since December 2005 and are continuing to spread. Some telecommunication companies in the U.S., Canada, Asia and Europe use a flavor of 3G called W-CDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access). Others use CDMA2000, a non-compatible, competing 3G standard that includes a small family of protocols. These are known as CDMA2000 1xRTT (1 times Radio Transmission Technology), CDA2000 EV-DO (Evolution Data Only), and CDMA EV-DV (Evolution Data/Voice). Two popular mobile carries that use CDMA technology are Sprint and Verizon.
If your mobile phone utilizes a subscriber identity module or SIM card, your carrier is using a GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) network. GSM networks make the switch to 3G networks by first incorporating a General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). From here the network can be converted to a Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS), a 3G standard sometimes referred to as 3GSM. Alternately the network can incorporate an Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE) system, though some people consider EDGE a 2.75G system since it is slightly slower than other 3G networks.
In practical terms, if you are looking for a GSM mobile phone carrier and that carrier offers UMTS or EDGE, you know you are getting a 3G network. Alternately, if considering CDMA carriers, look for one of the CDMA2000 flavors mentioned earlier. Be alert for newer technologies as well. As you might have expected, there is already talk of 4G networks, and protocols will continue to evolve with time to define newer standards.