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Types of 3G

There are two main flavors of 3G: UMTS (Universal Mobile Telephone Service), which is being rolled out over existing GSM networks, and CDMA2000, which brings 3G speeds to CDMA networks; for a detailed explanation of terms, see the glossary. Both UMTS and CDMA2000--which has two high-speed offshoots, the data-only 1xEV-DO and the voice-plus-data 1xEV-DV--are already springing up in a handful of U.S. cities and should be available nationwide by the end of 2005. Speeds for both should be about DSL quality. We're also beginning to see discussions of 3.5G and 4G technologies such as HSDPA and WiMax, which should provide cable modem and gigabyte Ethernet speeds.

Of course, you'll need a 3G-capable phone to use one of the new high-speed networks. After some false starts, a handful of 3G handsets have appeared in the last few months such as the LG VX8000 and the Motorola A845. In fact, 3G cell phones were a big theme at the 2005 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, so you can expect many more in 2005. (See all new cell phone reviews.)

Laptop users also can take advantage of 3G networks for on-the-go broadband without a Wi-Fi network; all you need is a carrier-supplied PC Card. We first played with Verizon's card in 2004, and we liked what we saw. After starting slowly with just two cities in 2003, Verizon now has the largest 3G network. AT&T started a limited rollout in 2004, and other carriers are expected to catch up in the next couple years. Each has a different process for getting there, of course, and their selection of handsets will vary.
See the Motorola A845 in action.

Services and speeds 

   1G   2G   2.5G   3G   3.5G   4G and beyond 
Technology AMPS GSM
HSDPA (upgrade for UMTS)
Speeds n/a Less than 20Kbps 30Kbps to 90Kbps 144Kbps to 2Mbps 384Kbps to 14.4Mbps 100Mbps to 1Gbps
Features Analog
(voice only)
Voice; SMS; conference calls; caller ID; push to talk MMS; images; Web browsing; short audio/video clips; games, applications, and ring tone downloads Full-motion video; streaming music; 3D gaming; faster Web browsing On-demand video; videoconferencing High-quality streaming video;
high-quality videoconferencing; Voice-over-IP telephony

*WiMax has been mentioned as a possible 4G technology, but no standards have been set.

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