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3G - When will it be a Reality? 3G - When will it be a Reality? (Part 1/2)
By Daniel Cheung
February, 2001

Right now, everyone is talking about how 3G technology will make m-commerce flourish. M-commerce is happening right here and now in the 2G environment, and before fully-fledged launch of 3G technology, there are several technologies that will act as "stepping stones" towards 3G telephony - and they are not all based on GSM.

Panasonic has already released cell phones with 3G capabilities in Japan, as seen in the above picture of the KX-FE841 model.

What 3G Promises

So what is all the fuss about? According to proponents of 3G telephony (or UMTS as it is more commonly referred to in Europe) this high-speed wireless communications technology is all-powerful. UMTS promises to deliver not just voice telephony but more importantly multi-media, high-speed data and even real-time video images to our futuristic large screen handsets when we are on the move. Sounds great doesn't it? Think of the m-commerce possibilities; we could view the products from all angles in real time on the screen of the mobile phone before we actually purchase it by completing a secure credit card transaction from the same phone!

However, do not get overexcited just yet. Most industry analysts believe that, although UMTS promises bit rates of up to 2Mbps, the actual speed will be between 144kbps and 380 kbps. Although this is also great, such networks are not expected to become commercially available until 2003 or later in Australia.

What is the UMTS model?

UMTS (Universal Mobile Telephone Service) is a Third Generation (3G) mobile system being developed by ETSI™ within the ITU’s IMT-2000 framework. It will provide data speeds of up to 2 Mbps, making portable videophones a reality. It is not the only

UMTS has the support of many major European telecommunications operators and manufacturers because it represents a unique opportunity to create a mass market for highly personalised and user friendly mobile access to the Information Society.

UMTS seeks to build on and extend the capability of today’s mobile, cordless and satellite technologies by providing increased capacity, data capability and a far greater range of services using an innovative radio access scheme and an enhanced, evolving core network.

Australia's Present Wireless Technology

At the moment, Australia is still firmly rooted in the use of GSM and CDMA networks. Most m-commerce initiatives today, are being utilised over regular second generation (2G) GSM networks (first generation was the old analogue cellular system). GSM today offers bit rates of up to 9.6 kbps. Even the old standard SMS (short message service) on GSM has a role to play. In the past, the main use of SMS was to alert users to awaiting voicemail messages. Today, SMS is the basis for a host of value added services enabling subscribers to access email, business and entertainment services and has become an important technology for implementing m-commerce services. The limit of 145 characters is overcome by stringing together into a chain as many SMS messages as are needed for the transaction.

In a sense, Australia is waiting for the major economies of the world to make up their minds about what wireless technologies to adopt before making any such investments. In Japan, the success of iMode as a 3G technology seems to be an ideal platform for Australia to follow. However, one factor that will hinder the adoption of iMode in Australia is that, unlike Japan (with the near-monopoly of NTT DoCoMo), there are several competitors that have their competing networks.

In the United States, the players in the wireless market are grappling with several technologies. Europe, on the other hand, have boldly embarked on the road to a UMTS-based wireless future. Currently, most European countries have already run bids for 3G / UMTS licences for bandwidths. Australia finds itself in a similar position right now, with companies starting to bid for 3G bandwidths in January 2001.

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