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International Mobile Telecommunications-2000 (IMT-2000), better known as 3G or 3rd Generation, is a family of standards for mobile telecommunications defined by the International Telecommunication Union, which includes GSM EDGE, UMTS, and CDMA2000 as well as DECT and WiFi. Services include wide-area wireless voice telephone, video calls, and wireless data, all in a mobile environment. Compared to 2G and 2.5G services, 3G allows simultaneous use of speech and data services and higher data rates (up to 14.0 Mbit/s on the downlink and 5.8 Mbit/s on the uplink with HSPA+). Thus, 3G networks enable network operators to offer users a wider range of more advanced services while achieving greater network capacity through improved spectral efficiency.

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) defined the third generation (3G) of mobile telephony standards – IMT-2000 – to facilitate growth, increase bandwidth, and support more diverse applications. For example, GSM (the current most popular cellular phone standard) could deliver not only voice, but also circuit-switched data at download rates up to 14.4 kbps. But to support mobile multimedia applications, 3G had to deliver packet-switched data with better spectral efficiency, at far greater bandwidths.


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.

There are evolutionary standards that are backwards-compatible extensions to pre-existing 2G networks as well as revolutionary standards that require all-new networks and frequency allocations. The later 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.

Overview of 3G/IMT-2000 standards
ITU IMT-2000 common name(s) bandwidth of data pre-4G duplex channel description geographical areas
TDMA Single‑Carrier (IMT‑SC) EDGE (UWT-136) EDGE Evolution none FDD TDMA evolutionary upgrade to GSM/GPRS worldwide, except Japan and South Korea
CDMA Multi‑Carrier (IMT‑MC) CDMA2000 EV-DO UMB CDMA evolutionary upgrade to cdmaOne (IS-95) Americas, Asia, some others
CDMA Direct Spread (IMT‑DS) UMTS W-CDMA HSPA LTE family of revolutionary standards. worldwide
FDMA/TDMA (IMT‑FT) DECT none FDMA/TDMA short-range; standard for cordless phones Europe, USA
IP‑OFDMA WiMAX (IEEE 802.16) OFDMA late addition worldwide

While EDGE is part of the 3G standard, most GSM/UMTS phones report EDGE (“2.75G”) and UMTS (“3G”) network availability as separate functionality.


The first pre-commercial 3G network was launched by NTT DoCoMo in Japanmarker branded FOMA, in May 2001 on a pre-release of W-CDMA technology. The first commercial launch of 3G was also by NTT DoCoMo in Japan on October 1, 2001, although it was initially somewhat limited in scope; broader availability was delayed by apparent concerns over reliability. The second network to go commercially live was by SK Telecom in South Koreamarker on the 1xEV-DO technology in January 2002. By May 2002 the second South Korean 3G network was by KTF on EV-DO and thus the Koreans were the first to see competition among 3G operators.

The first European pre-commercial network was at the Isle of Manmarker by Manx Telecom, the operator then owned by British Telecom, and the first commercial network in Europe was opened for business by Telenormarker in December 2001 with no commercial handsets and thus no paying customers. These were both on the W-CDMA technology.

The first commercial United States 3G network was by Monet Mobile Networks, on CDMA2000 1x EV-DO technology, but this network provider later shut down operations. The second 3G network operator in the USA was Verizon Wireless in October 2003 also on CDMA2000 1x EV-DO. AT&T Mobility is also a true 3G network, having completed its upgrade of the 3G network to HSUPA.

The first pre-commercial demonstration network in the southern hemisphere was built in Adelaidemarker, South Australiamarker by m.Net Corporation in February 2002 using UMTS on 2100 MHz. This was a demonstration network for the 2002 IT World Congress. The first commercial 3G network was launched by Hutchison Telecommunications branded as Three in March 2003.

In December 2007, 190 3G networks were operating in 40 countries and 154 HSDPA networks were operating in 71 countries, according to the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA). In Asia, Europe, Canada and the USA, telecommunication companies use W-CDMA technology with the support of around 100 terminal designs to operate 3G mobile networks.

In Europe, mass market commercial 3G services were introduced starting in March 2003 by 3 (Part of Hutchison Whampoa) in the UK and Italy. The European Union Council suggested that the 3G operators should cover 80% of the European national populations by the end of 2005.

Roll-out of 3G networks was delayed in some countries by the enormous costs of additional spectrum licensing fees. (See Telecoms crash.) In many countries, 3G networks do not use the same radio frequencies as 2G, so mobile operators must build entirely new networks and license entirely new frequencies; an exception is the United States where carriers operate 3G service in the same frequencies as other services. The license fees in some European countries were particularly high, bolstered by government auctions of a limited number of licenses and sealed bid auctions, and initial excitement over 3G's potential. Other delays were due to the expenses of upgrading equipment for the new systems.

By June 2007 the 200 millionth 3G subscriber had been connected. Out of 3 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide this is only 6.7%. In the countries where 3G was launched first - Japanmarker and South Koreamarker - 3G penetration is over 70%. In Europe the leading country is Italy with a third of its subscribers migrated to 3G. Other leading countries by 3G migration include UK, Austria, Australia and Singapore at the 20% migration level. A confusing statistic is counting CDMA 2000 1x RTT customers as if they were 3G customers. If using this definition, then the total 3G subscriber base would be 475 million at June 2007 and 15.8% of all subscribers worldwide.

In Canadamarker, Rogers Wireless was the first to implement 3G technology, with HSDPA services in eastern Canadamarker in early 2007. Their subsidiary Fido Solutions offers 3G as well. Because they were the only incumbent carrier (out of 3) with UMTS/HSDPA capability, for 2 years Rogers was the sole provider of the popular Apple iPhone. Realizing they would miss out on roaming revenue from the 2010 Winter Olympics, Bell and Telus formed a joint venture and rolled out a shared HSDPA network using Nokia Siemens technology. Bell launched their 3G wireless lineup on 4 November 2009, and Telus followed suit a day later on 5 November 2009. With these launches, the popular iPhone is now available on all 3 incumbent national carriers.

Mobitel Iraqmarker is the first mobile 3G operator in Iraq. It was launched commercially on February 2007.

Chinamarker announced in May 2008, that the telecoms sector was re-organized and three 3G networks would be allocated so that the largest mobile operator, China Mobile, would retain its GSM customer base. China Unicom would retain its GSM customer base but relinquish its CDMA2000 customer base, and launch 3G on the globally leading WCDMA (UMTS) standard. The CDMA2000 customers of China Unicom would go to China Telecom, which would then launch 3G on the CDMA 1x EV-DO standard. This meant that China would have all three main cellular technology 3G standards in commercial use. Finally in January 2009, Ministry of industry and Information Technology of China has awarded licenses of all three standards,TD-SCDMA to China Mobile, WCDMA to China Unicom and CDMA2000 to China Telecom. The launch of 3G occurred on 1 October 2009, to coincide with the 60th Anniversary of the Founding of the People's Republic of China.

In November 2008, Turkeymarker has auctioned four IMT 2000/UMTS standard 3G licenses with 45, 40, 35 and 25 MHz top frequencies. Turkcell has won the 45 MHz band with its €358 million offer followed by Vodafone and Avea leasing the 40 and 35 MHz frequencies respectively for 20 years. The 25 MHz top frequency license remains to be auctioned.

The first African use of 3G technology was a 3G videocall made in Johannesburgmarker on the Vodacom network in November 2004. The first commercial launch of 3G in Africa was by EMTEL in Mauritiusmarker on the W-CDMA standard. In north African Moroccomarker in late March 2006, a 3G service was provided by the new company Wana.

T-Mobile, a major Telecommunication services provider has recently rolled out a list of over 120 U.S. cities which will be provided with 3G Network coverage in the year 2009.

In 2008, India entered into 3G Mobile arena with the launch of 3G enabled Mobile services by Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (MTNL). MTNL is the first Mobile operator in India to launch 3G services.


Data rates

ITU has not provided a clear definition of the data rate users can expect from 3G equipment or providers. Thus users sold 3G service may not be able to point to a standard and say that the rates it specifies are not being met. While stating in commentary that "it is expected that IMT-2000 will provide higher transmission rates: a minimum data rate of 2 Mbit/s for stationary or walking users, and 348 kbit/s in a moving vehicle," the ITU does not actually clearly specify minimum or average rates or what modes of the interfaces qualify as 3G, so various rates are sold as 3G intended to meet customers expectations of broadband data.


3G networks offer a greater degree of security than 2G predecessors. By allowing the UE (User Equipment) to authenticate the network it is attaching to, the user can be sure the network is the intended one and not an impersonator. 3G networks use the KASUMI block crypto instead of the older A5/1 stream cipher. However, a number of serious weaknesses in the KASUMI cipher have been identified .

In addition to the 3G network infrastructure security, end to end security is offered when application frameworks such as IMS are accessed, although this is not strictly a 3G property.


3G offers a wide range of applications. These applications are mainly made possible due to the enhanced data rates as a result of the 2Mbps bandwidth availabilities. Some of the applications are.

1. Mobile TV - Due to the high data transfer rate being offered due to 3G, TV can be viewed on Mobile Phones. For this have to tie up with a service provider, through which the content can be accessed. Eg.Apalya for BSNL(India).

2. Video Conferencing - It is possible to conduct a video conferencing using the available network, due to the 2 Mbps bandwidth.

3. Tele-medicine - This is an extended feature of video conferencing where a remote person can be given attention by a doctor located at a distant place.

4. Location Based Services - These are some services which can be accessed on the dependence of the service provider. These include weather updates, live road traffic view, and vehicle tracking.

5. Video on Demand - Videos can be viewed on demand from a service provider. For providing this service, the service provider should have collaborations with content providers such as Perceptknorigin (in India). This is again possible due to high buffering speed possible due to the 3G network.

Evolution from 2G

2G networks were built mainly for voice services and slow data transmission.

From 2G to 2.5G

The first major step in the evolution to 3G occurred with the introduction of General Packet Radio Service (GPRS). So the cellular services combined with GPRS became '2.5G.'

GPRS could provide data rates from 56 kbit/s up to 114 kbit/s. It can be used for services such as Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) access, Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS), and for Internet communication services such as email and World Wide Web access. GPRS data transfer is typically charged per megabyte of traffic transferred, while data communication via traditional circuit switching is billed per minute of connection time, independent of whether the user actually is utilizing the capacity or is in an idle state.

From 2.5G to 2.75G (EDGE)

GPRS networks evolved to EDGE networks with the introduction of 8PSK encoding. Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE), Enhanced GPRS (EGPRS), or IMT Single Carrier (IMT-SC) is a backward-compatible digital mobile phone technology that allows improved data transmission rates, as an extension on top of standard GSM. EDGE was deployed on GSM networks beginning in 2003—initially by Cingular (now AT&T) in the United States.

EDGE is standardized by 3GPP as part of the GSM family, and it is an upgrade that provides a potential three-fold increase in capacity of GSM/GPRS networks. The specification achieves higher data-rates by switching to more sophisticated methods of coding (8PSK), within existing GSM timeslots.

Evolution towards 4G

Both 3GPP and 3GPP2 are currently working on further extensions to 3G standards, named Long Term Evolution and Ultra Mobile Broadband, respectively. Being based on an all-IP network infrastructure and using advanced wireless technologies such as MIMO, these specifications already display features characteristic for IMT-Advanced (4G), the successor of 3G. However, falling short of the bandwidth requirements for 4G (which is 1 Gbit/s for stationary and 100 Mbit/s for mobile operation), these standards are classified as 3.9G or Pre-4G.

3GPP plans to meet the 4G goals with LTE Advanced, whereas Qualcomm has halted development of UMB in favour of the LTE family.


Although 3G was successfully introduced to users across the world, some issues are debated by 3G providers and users:
  • Expensive input fees for the 3G service licenses in some jurisdictions
  • Differences in licensing terms between states
  • Level of debt incurred by some telecommunication companies, which makes investment in 3G difficult
  • Lack of state support for financially troubled operators
  • Cost of 3G phones
  • Lack of coverage in some areas
  • Demand for broadband services in a hand-held device
  • Battery life of 3G phones

See also


Explanatory Notes


  1. Clint Smith, Daniel Collins. "3G Wireless Networks", page 136. 2000.
  2. Can also be used as an upgrade to PDC and/or D-AMPS.
  3. also known as UTRA-TDD 3.84 Mcps high chip rate (HCR)
  4. also known as UTRA-TDD 1.28 Mcps low chip rate (LCR)
  5. Plus 8 Star presentation, "Is 3G a Dog or a Demon - Hints from 7 years of 3G Hype in Asia"
  6. Qualcomm halts UMB project, Reuters, November 13th, 2008

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