The third-generation mobile phone network is billed as a giant leap forward for mobile phone technology, with more services and features on offer than ever before. Handsets are now portable multimedia messaging and playback devices that can send and receive e-mail, grab content from the Internet without waiting and have personalised information and entertainment services delivered right to the hand, the ear and the eye of the user. With the launch of Apple's iconic iPhone 3G at the forefront, the demand for faster content delivered over 3G networks will only increase.
There are now a number of 3G networks operating in Australia, and despite a slow uptake when the services were originally released the growth of 3G networks is steady. Mobile companies see a big (read: lucrative) future in multimedia and Internet content for users hungry for faster, feature-rich mobile services — so expect to see more and more services and competitive pricing bundles as it develops.
The 3G mobile phone network uses a different frequency band than its predecessors to deliver increased data transfer rates. The 3G network uses the 2100MHz frequency, while the existing 2G network operates at the 900MHz frequency band (GSM) and 800MHz (CDMA). This high-speed data capacity enables more content to be sent to and from mobile handsets through calls, messaging and Internet-based content. For example, 3G phones can be used for video phone calls, video message bank, Internet and e-mail, real-time interactive gaming and media streaming, such as news, weather and dedicated TV shows.
The original analog network was the first-generation cellular mobile phone network. It was operational in the 1980s when handsets resembled 'bricks' rather than the tiny, feature-packed devices they've become today. The next major development was the digital cellular mobile phone network that started to offer data as well as voice services and was considered the second-generation mobile network.
The 2G network has a data rate of between 9.6 kilobits per second and 14.4Kbps; the 2.5G network boosted rates to between 56Kbps and 144Kbps. Current High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) — a 3G technology — allows for much higher data transfer speeds. Current HSDPA in Australia now supports downloads of up to 7.2 megabits per second, though this will soon rise to 14.4Mbps when the hardware to support these speeds becomes available. But the real future is 4G, which will deliver data transfer rates of between 20 and 40Mbps — comparable to ADSL and cable Internet transfer speeds. However, the 4G network is only in development and is still some time away from trials and commercial release of services.
In Australia, the 3G network uses the UMTS standard, which is built on the GSM network, and all four operators — Vodafone, Telstra, 3 Mobile and Optus — use this standard. The other 3G standard is CDMA2000, which has a number of variations, but only Telstra has a version for mobile broadband packages. (See Networks & Data Rate box below for speeds and the Glossary for technical terms related to 3G networks.) Theoretically, any UMTS 3G-compatible phone will work on the UMTS network with any operator, although limitations or restrictions may be imposed by the operators as the service develops. Phone companies are offering a selection of handsets with plans that limit choice but avoid compatibility issues.
In Australia, the 3G network has been up and running for a number of years with companies offering services, some with their own network infrastructure and some sharing a network. Hutchison — which goes under the marketing name of 3 Mobile — Telstra, Vodafone and Optus all offer 3G phone services. Hutchison was the first to launch its 3G service in Australia back in 2003. It built its own network and covers around 96 per cent of the population (note: this is population density not geographical). In 2007, 3 Mobile launched its 3.6Mbps HSDPA network.
Telstra, which shares its 3G network with Hutchison, launched its service in 2004. Not to be left out, Vodafone and Optus banded together to build their own 3G network. Optus launched a business 3G offering in early 2005 and has continued its rollout into the consumer market. In May 2007 Optus began extending its existing 3G HSDPA coverage to 96 per cent of the Australian population and plans to continue this over a three year period.
Vodafone launched its 3G service in late 2005 with a range of services and plans. It activated its HSDPA coverage in small specialist areas of Sydney and Melbourne in late 2006, with speeds of up to 1.8Mbitps. This followed further expansion of its HSDPA network in 2007 to more cities including Canberra, Brisbane, Gold Coast, Adelaide, Perth and the NSW Central Coast.
In late 2006, Telstra launched its new 'Next G' 3G network, promising real world speeds of between 550Kbps and 1.5Mbps to customers nationwide. The Next G network is the fastest in Australia and uses HSDPA, with theoretical maximum download speeds of 14.4Mbps — though current hardware allows speeds of up to 7.2Mbps. By 2009, Telstra expects the Next G network to be upgraded to handle speeds of up to 40Mbps.
|Networks & Data Rate|
|1G||Analog||9.6Kbps to 14.4Kbps||Voice Only|
|2G||GSM/CDMA||9.6Kbps to 14.4Kbps||Voice & Data|
|2.5G||GPRS/EDGE||56Kbps to 144Kbps||Voice & Data|
|3G||UMTS||384Kbps to 2Mbps||Voice & Data|
|3G||WCDMA||2Mbps, 384Kbps (wide access)||Voice & Data|
|4G||—||20 to 40Mbps (theoretical)||Voice & Data|