Telecommunications was the most discussed subject of the past decade. From Wi-Fi to WiMax, and from cell phones to smart phones, the sky is the limit for heated debates.
For the layman too, things have changed remarkably over the last two decades. There are now diverse media for communications and the rate of, phone calls have dropped drastically. Think of the phone lines you used 20 years ago and youll catch the point. Now you are totally connected, through not only the much-improved phone lines but also the Internet, wireless networks and gadgets that allow you to stay connected anywhere and at any time.
Developments are so fast that even before a technology becomes the market rule, another is already out to replace it. The same thing weve seen in the case of Wi-Fi: WiMax (a standard optimized for broadband operation in the wide-area network) has become the topic of interest for connecting cities when its predecessor Wi-Fi (which allows high-speed Internet access within 50 meters of a base-station) is yet to reach the common man. And while we talk about 4G, we are still stuck with 2.5G networks. But then it is the characteristic of the humans to keep innovating.
With generations of telecom networks behind us, its time to turn the corner and see where we stand today and the shape of things seven years from now.
Cellular evolution over the years
The first generation of wireless telecommunication systems, back in the 1970 s, had more than ten analogue standards established worldwide: the Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Public Corp. (NTT) and Narrowband Total Access Communication System (NTACS) in Japan, Total Access Communication System (TAGS) in Italy and UK, and the Advanced Mobile Phone Service (AMPS) in America. Cellular radio systems that were simultaneously developed in Europe and Japan have been identified as the first generation (IG).
The first-generation systems had a low capacity and hit the saturation level soon. This forced the development of second-generation (2G) systems in the 1980s, which took two directions: while the global system for mobile communication (GSM) was chosen by Europe and the US, Japan and Korea adopted the code-division multiple access (CDMA) technology.
The success of GSM has been widely held as an achievement for the telecom industry. This encouraged major telecom firms to begin work on new technologies for the third generation (3G) of telecommunication.
For evolution from 2G to 3G, a range of wireless systems, including General Packet Radio Services (GPRS), Enhanced Data-rates for Global Evolution (EDGE), IMT-2000, Bluetooth, Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) and HiperLAN (see Fig. 1), were developed, We are currently at the stage between 2G and 3G (hence called 2.5G). 2.5G represent a digital revolution where data speeds and broad- band on mobiles become a reality. The 2.5G GPRS networks have brought about 28kbps bitrate for data transfer.
Advent of 3G
While 2G systems such as GSM, IS-95 and cdmaOne were designed to carry speech and low-bitrate data, 3G systems are being designed solely to provide high-data rate services. This generation of wireless communications attempt to converge various 2G and 2.5G networks into a single uniform system. The 3G-telecom networks include both terrestrial and satellite components.
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has been developing the 3G wireless standard since 1585. Two different standards are competing for the title of the 3G standard: while QualComm has proposed CDMA-2000, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute endorses the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS).
CDMA-2000 - This 3G standard, based on the IS-2000 signaling technique, is incompatible with UMTS. The different types of CDMA are lx (3GIX or lxRTT), CDMA2000 lxRTT (known as the 2.75G technology) and CDMA2000 lxEV (Evolution); RTT is short for radio transmission technology. Of these, CDMA2000 lxEV offers high packet data speeds for wireless access to the Internet.
UMTS - UMTS, based on the Internet protocol (IP), is part of its IMT-2000 family of 3G wireless standards. It uses the wide-band CDMA (WCDMA) radio technique, which is a combination of CDMA and time-division multiple access (TDMA) technologies. It is built above the GSM network and works in a variety of new and existing spectrum bands, including 1900 MHz.
As of May 2005, UMTS is in service on 67 networks in 33 countries and an additional 76 UMTS networks are in either precommercial, planning, licensed or deployment stages. It is designed to deliver bandwidth-hungry services such as streaming multimedia, large file transfers and video-conferencing to a wide variety of devices, including cell phones, personal digital assistants (PDAs) and laptops.
Evolution into 3G
As networks evolve, more content choices will be available to satisfy the customers needs. 3Gs high-speed communications (upwards of 2 Mbps) and broadband services such as enhanced multimedia (voice, data and video) will attract many more customers. Service providers and network operators have already started embracing 3G wireless standards to offer new services to their techno-savvy customers. Put simply, 3G wireless technologies represents a shift from voice-centric services to multimedia-oriented services like video, voice, data and fax.
A step into 3G will see an explosion of personal communication devices and systems that deliver freedom of communications through mobility as well as wide-band wireless access to the Internet and advanced multimedia services. The 3G handsets, though, will be slightly bigger because they will have more software inside. In fact, as handsets morph into PDAs, the appliance we carry around will become increasingly like a computer.
Since mid-nineties, telecom players have been working on 3G to achieve efficient broadband and snag-free access to the Internet. Wireless applications such as location-based services, e shopping, e ticketing and multimedia data transfer are still being researched. The initial standards for UMTS were completed by 3GPP in April 1999 and termed Release 1999 (R99).
3G is being deployed only in Japan and parts of Europe, most of which are trials by Vodafone and Hutch. Nortel Networks is supplying infrastructure to major global UMTS operators, while Lucent Technologies and Cingular Wireless are deploying a 3G UMTS trial network in Atlanta. Lucent is working with AT&T Wireless to deploy a UMTS trial network in the greater Miami area to evaluate mobile voice and high-speed data services.
At the 3GSM World Congress 2004 held in Cannes, Siemens showcased video telephony over a local, commercial UMTS radio access network using the Siemens U15 terminal. Ericsson has announced agreements with 46 operators to supply 3G UMTS network infrastructure equipment. Nokia is working on HSDPA, HSUPA and Internet-HSPA technologies, HSDPA will offer downlink speeds of up to 14.4 Mbps, while HSUPA will offer uplink speeds of up to 5.7 Mbps. Internet-HSPA is a network innovation from Nokia that is based on the 3G Partnership Project (3GPP) standard. Nokia Internet-HSPA, with its simplified network architecture, is a broadband wireless access solution that evolves from the WCDMA infrastructure technology.
The 3GPP group, a consortium of 200 wireless vendors and operators all over the world, has begun a study to determine the feasibility of defining a standard that would be the next evolution step of 3G technologies into 4G, aptly called the 3.9G. This standard is also called the Universal Terrestrial Radio Access Network Long Term Evolution (UTRAN LTE) or Super 3G. UTRAN provides the air-interface access method and is part of the UMTS architecture.
Super 3G have peak data rates of l00 Mbps downlink and 50Mbps uplink. The groups task is to define relevant technologies, spectrum requirements and other issues, and then launch the standardisation activity. The specifications for the 3.9G standard will be finalised in mid 2007. Some argue that Super 3G isnt really relevant and countries like India should skip 3G (and consequently, Super3G) and leapfrog to 4G, as 3G has not been found to be cost-effective.
4G have sprung from a usage-driven research framework to invent new technologies for the wireless world vision. The evolution of such a wireless system (also called beyond 3G or B3G) is closely linked to rapid advances in digital and component technologies.
The merger of consumer electronics, computer systems, telecommunications and broadcasting is leading to an information convergence that will require increasingly seamless connections.