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3G, or third-generation, is loosely defined as offering high data speeds, always-on data access and greater voice capacity, enabling operators to offer customers fast internet access, live, streaming video and other multimedia or "converged" applications over a wireless network. There are several 3G technology standards.
4G, or fourth-generation, a loose term for wireless mobile radio technology that offers faster data rates than 3G. 4G networks are also more data-centric and based on standard internet technologies such as IP (Internet protocol), with voice services typically provided using a form of VoIP (see VoIP). See WiMAX and LTE.
CDMA, or Code Division Multiple Access, is a second-generation digital wireless technology that competes with alternative technologies such as GSM. CDMA technologies operate at the 800 megahertz and 1900 megahertz frequencies, primarily in the U.S. and Asia. CDMA2000 is a third-generation, or 3G, technology that arose out of CDMA.
Enhanced Data for Global Evolution is an upgrade for GSM/GPRS networks that triples speed, and is used extensively in countries which currently lack a dedicated 3G spectrum. It is also often described as a 2.5G network technology.
Femtocells are small, box-shaped base-stations for use within residential homes and businesses that allow mobile operators to send voice calls and data directly over the internet using a broadband connection. The prefix femto-, means one quadrillionth).
General Packet Radio Service is used for data applications on phones, including wireless application protocol (WAP) Internet services, multimedia messaging services (MMS) and software that connects to the Internet.
Global System for Mobile Communications, GSM is the dominant mobile phone standard. GSM is one of two major phone technologies deployed, the other being CDMA. GSM, which is far more prevalent outside of the U.S., particularly in Europe. GSM phones are incompatible with those that work on CDMA networks, and vice-versa. The key feature of GSM devices is the SIM card which allows users to switch phones by simply moving the thumbnail-size storage device from one phone to another.
High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) networks, also described by some as 3.5G networks, is an upgrade to WCDMA/UMTS networks that doubles network capacity and increases download data speeds by fivefold or more.
High-Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA) networks apply HSDPA-like enhancements to the uplink side of the connection.
LTE, or Long-term Evolution, is the term used to describe the advanced wireless mobile technology that is succeeding the current 3G WCDMA/HSDPA/HSUPA technology. LTE is widely considered to be a 4G technology, both because it is faster than 3G, and because it uses an all-IP (Internet protocol) system architecture in which everything, including voice, is handled as data.
Mobile Network Virtual Operators, or MVNOs, are wireless companies which use another operator's radio towers and network to provide mobile services to their customers, instead of investing in their own infrastructure.
Cellular base-stations which are smaller than microcells but larger than femtocells.
A GSM phone which supports all four major GSM frequency bands, including 850 MHz and 1900 MHz used in the U.S., and 900/1800 MHz used in the rest of the world.
Universal Mobile Telecommunications System - a 3G mobile technology often used and referred to interchangeably with WCDMA.
Voice over Internet Protocol, also called IP telephony, is a technology for transmitting voice traffic over packet-switched data networks. See Packet Switching.
Wireless Application Protocol is a technology designed to allow efficient transmission of optimized Internet content to mobile phones.
Wideband Code Division Multiple Access, is a third-generation wireless standard, deployed in Europe and Asia at the 2100 MHz frequency, and in North America at 850 MHz and 1900 MHz. Also referred to interchangeably as UTMS. WCDMA is a GMS-path standard, while CDMA is based on the CDMA2000 track.
A group of wireless broadband standards with very long range (of five miles-30 miles) and high speed, in contrast to Wi-Fi, which offers megabits of bandwidth over service distances of around 300 feet. WiMAX operates at higher frequencies than mobile phone networks, typically in the 2.5 GHz or 3.5 GHz bands.
GSM vs CDMA
There are effectively two paths for 3G evolutionary standards: one rooted in GMS, the other in CDMA.
The GSM path begins with traditional 2.5G access, which over time has GPRS added for data service, and in the U.S. EDGE was later added. This is often referred to as Wideband CDMA.
The CDMA path begins with CDMA2000 and adds high-speed data through an overlay service called EV-DO.
The two paths begin to converge in fourth-generation networks, as carriers using different standards have committed to LTE, likely making it the dominant technology going forward.