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EDGE is a wireless network technology generally considered the next step in the 2G network. The name is an acronym that stands for Enhanced Data GSM Environment, although Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution is is also used. As both names suggest, it is an improvement on the GSM wireless technology, which is second generation, or 2G, cell phone technology. Since it is an improvement on existing technology and not necessarily a third generation, it is often referred to as 2.75G.
Generally, EDGE is used for the purpose of wireless data transfer, such as sharing pictures and videos or browsing the Internet via a mobile phone connection. This is because the technology offers data transfer rates up to four times faster than ordinary GSM networks. As phones with Internet browser capabilities, such as the Blackberry® and the iPhone®, have become more popular, faster data transfer has become ever more important.
Because this technology is an upgrade of GSM, it is easy for wireless carriers to improve their networks to offer it. The increase in data speed is achieved via more sophisticated coding, not by equipment, so new hardware is not usually necessary. Instead, a software upgrade enables the wireless carrier’s base stations to support data transfer speeds up to 384 kilobits per second (kbps).
EDGE first became available in the early 2000s. In 2003, Cingular began offering it as an upgrade to their GSM network. The wireless company also offered a mobile wireless Internet service for laptop users, which used a PCMCIA card to tap into the network. WiFi® was therefore available to laptop users from almost anywhere that offered a strong cell phone signal.
Eventually, EDGE became the standard, replacing less efficient wireless technology such as GPRS, and virtually every cell phone company offers this technology. It will eventually be replaced by 3G and 4G technologies, however, with even faster data transfer speeds.
Although wireless companies make an effort to make advanced technologies available to most people, the coverage is typically limited to areas with dense populations or major highways. For this reason, people who live in more rural areas tend not to have access to as fast data transfer rates as people in major cities.