As we move into the second half of 2004 and into 2005, we’re seeing mobile phone handsets getting more and more advanced. Advancements we’ve seen this year include high resolution colour screens, ringtones that are polyphonic or MP3-based, and VGA or even megapixel cameras. So what else can we expect to see in the near future? No doubt one of the buzzwords you would have heard is 3G, but a new one now, thanks to Telstra, is “i-mode”.
3G is short for “Third Generation”. Each generation of mobile phones refers to the underlying technology that they’ve been based on since mobile phones began in the 1980s. 1G phones used analogue technology. 2G refers to a digital communications system. Examples of 2G systems include GSM, CDMA and TDMA. 2.5G is a modification to 2G, adding packet data transmission that increases data transmission speeds up to around 48kbps, allows the data connection to be permanently connected, and is charged per data downloaded (this is in contrast to 2G circuit switched data connections capable of 9.6kbps and charged per time connected). GPRS is an example of a 2.5G system.
So what does 3G refer to? Definitions vary depending on who you ask, but it generally refers to any digital mobile communications system that can provide packet data transmission in speeds of 128kbps or greater. 3G based systems include:
EDGE (or EGPRS):
This is another enhancement to GSM, on top of GPRS, which improves data speeds to around 150kbps.
This is a brand new technology, and is the system used by the mobile operator 3. This one allows a maximum data transfer of 384kbps, with average data speeds at around 150kbps. This is also called UMTS by some people, with both terms used interchangeably (sometimes UMTS is used to refer to a phone that is capable of connecting to both W-CDMA and GSM networks).
This is an enhancement to standard CDMA systems, which improves data speeds to 144kbps. This upgrade has already been deployed by Telstra in selected areas in NSW and Victoria.
Don’t think that it’s going to end at 3G. A new technology, called HSDPA (which stands for High Speed Downlink Packet Access), is an add-on to existing WCDMA networks which blows download speed all the way up to a theoretical maximum of 14.4mbps, with average speeds expected to be around 3mbps. HSDPA is being affectionately dubbed 3.5G and should start appearing in WCDMA networks from the beginning of next year.
Ok, so what’s i-mode?
i-mode is basically a package of services. Developed by NTT DoCoMo, the No. 1 mobile phone operator in Japan, i-mode brings together a wealth of services including mobile e-mail directly between handsets, picture/video messaging, polyphonic/true ringtones, java games/applications, and of course, mobile internet browsing. It’s a very similar service to Vodafone’s Vodafone live! Service and 3’s internet portal. The main differences are that the email services both Vodafone and 3 provide work in a different manner. Vodafone’s email service can only be accessed through the Vodafone live! portal, which is a bit cumbersome. Three’s email service can be accessed direct from the handset, but you need to check for email to find out if you’ve received any at all. In contrast, i-mode email works exactly like SMS. You can send email directly from your handset to another handset or PC - you just go to a menu on your phone, type your message, send it, and it will be instantly delivered to the other person’s handset without them needing to first check for new email. The email address that you set up through the i-mode service can also feature any user name that you prefer, such as firstname.lastname@example.org (in the case of DoCoMo’s Japanese service), and the email address can easily be changed from a menu on the i-mode handset.
In order to use i-mode you will need an i-mode exclusive handset, similar to Vodafone live! branded handsets. The main difference is that you won’t be able to find a common handset that’s been branded, such as was the case with the Nokia 3200 with Vodafone live! branding. Rather, you will only find exclusive handsets, which at the moment are currently being made by Japanese manufacturers such as Fujitsu, Mitsubishi Electric, NEC and Panasonic.