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What is 3G Technology?

A. Pasbjerg
A. Pasbjerg

3G technology is a standard of cellular phone service first approved by the International Telecommunication Union in 1999. The term 3G stands for third generation, as this level of technology follows two earlier mobile telecommunications standards, 1G and 2G. 1G was analog technology used mainly in the 1980s, while 2G, used primarily in the 1990s, was digital but only allowed voice and limited data functionality. Also known as International Mobile Telecommunications-2000, or IMT-2000, 3G offers several advantages over these previous iterations.

One of the benefits of using 3G technology is its capability to allow users access to voice and data functions at the same time. In addition to supporting traditional wireless phone calls and text messaging, Web-based applications such as streaming video, e-mail, and video conferencing are also supported. Phones designed to work with 3G, commonly known as smartphones, can also be used to browse the Internet and download data files. This allows users much more freedom to perform tasks, do work, and have access to information while they are mobile.

A tablet PC using 3G technology.
A tablet PC using 3G technology.

Another advantage of 3G technology is a faster rate of data transfer. Due to use of greater bandwidth and higher transfer rates, transmission of data is much faster than with 1G or 2G phones. Potential speed with 3G is around two to three Mbps; when compared to 2G’s maximum 144 Kbps, this is a significant increase.

Additional security features are another benefit of 3G technology. Encryption of data being transmitted is stronger and more robust than on the older 2G technology, using algorithms such as Kasumi and Advanced Encryption Standard, or AES. Equipment can also authenticate that it is accessing the correct network. Users can also choose to incorporate a VPN connection to add even more security for the data they are transmitting.

A phone using a 3G network.
A phone using a 3G network.

In order to offer 3G technology, wireless carriers were required to upgrade their infrastructure to allow for the greater bandwidth it requires. Some operators have had to expand the capabilities of existing networks and equipment, while others have had to build new ones. In some areas, it was necessary to license new radio frequencies to carry the signal. Due to the costs associated with all of these upgrades, rollout of 3G was at times delayed in some places. The first country to develop the capability and launch 3G was Japan in 2001, with other countries throughout the world following in the next few years.

Discussion Comments


What amazes me about the use of "3G" technology by our current market's advertising firms is that the technology that sounds super futuristic and fast, is anything but that.

The wireless connectivity that is available across the American heartland is far from true 3G and as we speak I find it amazing that there are even wireless providers that are claiming to offer 4G speeds. The problem with this thinking is that it gives consumers the impression that these types of speeds could be conceivable attained on a national basis and that is simply not the case.

As you hop from town to town trying to connect to the multitude of wireless infrastructures, you will find that the connection speeds you manage are far from the advertised rates. While this might be surprising to some, others of us realize that in no way is a wireless technology company capable of providing coast to coast 3G service, let along 4G claims. These ridiculously over-marketed rates are the result of aggressive ad campaigns that I feel are false in the customer's eye.

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    • A tablet PC using 3G technology.
      By: m.schuckart
      A tablet PC using 3G technology.
    • A phone using a 3G network.
      By: Christian Delbert
      A phone using a 3G network.
    • Phones designed to work with 3G can also be used to browse the internet and download data files.
      By: Maridav
      Phones designed to work with 3G can also be used to browse the internet and download data files.