3G, short for third generation, is the third generation of wireless mobile telecommunications technology. It is the upgrade for 2G and 2.5G GPRS networks, for faster internet speed. This is based on a set of standards used for mobile devices and mobile telecommunications use services and networks that comply with the International Mobile Telecommunications-2000 (IMT-2000) specifications by the International Telecommunication Union. 3G finds application in wireless voice telephony, mobile Internet access, fixed wireless Internet access, video calls and mobile TV.

3G telecommunication networks support services that provide an information transfer rate of at least 0.2 Mbit/s. Later 3G releases, often denoted 3.5G and 3.75G, also provide mobile broadband access of several Mbit/s to smartphones and mobile modems in laptop computers. This ensures it can be applied to wireless voice telephony, mobile Internet access, fixed wireless Internet access, video calls and mobile TV technologies.

A new generation of cellular standards has appeared approximately every tenth year since 1G systems were introduced in 1981/1982. Each generation is characterized by new frequency bands, higher data rates and non–backward-compatible transmission technology. The first 3G networks were introduced in 1998 and fourth generation 4G networks in 2008.


Several telecommunications companies market wireless mobile Internet services as 3G, indicating that the advertised service is provided over a 3G wireless network. Services advertised as 3G are required to meet IMT-2000 technical standards, including standards for reliability and speed (data transfer rates). To meet the IMT-2000 standards, a system is required to provide peak data rates of at least 200 kbit/s (about 0.2 Mbit/s). However, many services advertised as 3G provide higher speed than the minimum technical requirements for a 3G service. Recent 3G releases, often denoted 3.5G and 3.75G, also provide mobile broadband access of several Mbit/s to smartphones and mobile modems in laptop computers.

The following standards are typically branded 3G:

  • the UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service) system, first offered in 2001, standardized by 3GPP, used primarily in Europe, Japan, China (however with a different radio interface) and other regions predominated by GSM (Global Systems for Mobile) 2G system infrastructure. The cell phones are typically UMTS and GSM hybrids. Several radio interfaces are offered, sharing the same infrastructure:
    • The original and most widespread radio interface is called W-CDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access).
    • The TD-SCDMA radio interface was commercialized in 2009 and is only offered in China.
    • The latest UMTS release, HSPA+, can provide peak data rates up to 56 Mbit/s in the downlink in theory (28 Mbit/s in existing services) and 22 Mbit/s in the uplink.
  • the CDMA2000 system, first offered in 2002, standardized by 3GPP2, used especially in North America and South Korea, sharing infrastructure with the IS-95 2G standard. The cell phones are typically CDMA2000 and IS-95 hybrids. The latest release EVDO Rev B offers peak rates of 14.7 Mbit/s downstream.

The above systems and radio interfaces are based on spread spectrum radio transmission technology. While the GSM EDGE standard ("2.9G"), DECT cordless phones and Mobile WiMAX standards formally also fulfill the IMT-2000 requirements and are approved as 3G standards by ITU, these are typically not branded 3G, and are based on completely different technologies.

The following common standards comply with the IMT2000/3G standard:

  • EDGE, a revision by the 3GPP organization to the older 2G GSM based transmission methods, utilizing the same switching nodes, base station sites and frequencies as GPRS, but new base station and cellphone RF circuits. It is based on the three times as efficient 8PSK modulation scheme as supplement to the original GMSK modulation scheme. EDGE is still used extensively due to its ease of upgrade from existing 2G GSM infrastructure and cell-phones.
    • EDGE combined with the GPRS 2.5G technology is called EGPRS, and allows peak data rates in the order of 200 kbit/s, just as the original UMTS WCDMA versions, and thus formally fulfills the IMT2000 requirements on 3G systems. However, in practice EDGE is seldom marketed as a 3G system, but a 2.9G system. EDGE shows slightly better system spectral efficiency than the original UMTS and CDMA2000 systems, but it is difficult to reach much higher peak data rates due to the limited GSM spectral bandwidth of 200 kHz, and it is thus a dead end.
    • EDGE was also a mode in the IS-136 TDMA system, today ceased.
    • Evolved EDGE, the latest revision, has peaks of 1 Mbit/s downstream and 400 kbit/s upstream, but is not commercially used.
  • The Universal Mobile Telecommunications System, created and revised by the 3GPP. The family is a full revision from GSM in terms of encoding methods and hardware, although some GSM sites can be retrofitted to broadcast in the UMTS/ W-CDMA format.
    • W-CDMA is the most common deployment, commonly operated on the 2,100 MHz band. A few others use the 850, 900 and 1,900 MHz bands.
      • HSPA is an amalgamation of several upgrades to the original W-CDMA standard and offers speeds of 14.4 Mbit/s down and 5.76 Mbit/s up. HSPA is backward-compatible with and uses the same frequencies as W-CDMA.
      • HSPA+, a further revision and upgrade of HSPA, can provide theoretical peak data rates up to 168 Mbit/s in the downlink and 22 Mbit/s in the uplink, using a combination of air interface improvements as well as multi-carrier HSPA and MIMO. Technically though, MIMO and DC-HSPA can be used without the "+" enhancements of HSPA+
  • The CDMA2000 system, or IS-2000, including CDMA2000 1x and CDMA2000 High Rate Packet Data (or EVDO), standardized by 3GPP2 (differing from the 3GPP), evolving from the original IS-95 CDMA system, is used especially in North America, China, India, Pakistan, Japan, South Korea, Southeast Asia, Europe and Africa.
    • CDMA2000 1x Rev. E has an increased voice capacity (in excess of three times) compared to Rev. 0 EVDO Rev. B offers downstream peak rates of 14.7 Mbit/s while Rev. C enhanced existing and new terminal user experience.

While DECT cordless phones and Mobile WiMAX standards formally also fulfill the IMT-2000 requirements, they are not usually considered due to their rarity and unsuitability for usage with mobile phones.

Break-up of 3G systems

The 3G (UMTS and CDMA2000) research and development projects started in 1992. In 1999, ITU approved five radio interfaces for IMT-2000 as a part of the ITU-R M.1457 Recommendation; WiMAX was added in 2007. [1]

There are evolutionary standards (EDGE and CDMA) that are backward-compatible extensions to pre-existing 2G networks as well as revolutionary standards that require all-new network hardware and frequency allocations. The cell phones utilise UMTS in combination with 2G GSM standards and bandwidths, but do not support EDGE. The latter group is the UMTS family, which consists of standards developed for IMT-2000, as well as the independently developed standards DECT and WiMAX, which were included because they fit the IMT-2000 definition.

While EDGE fulfills the 3G specifications, most GSM/UMTS phones report EDGE ("2.75G") and UMTS ("3G") functionality.

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