3G: what does it mean for you?

3G: what does it mean for you?
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First Published: Wed, Jun 24 2009. 12 30 AM IST

Updated: Wed, Jun 24 2009. 11 55 AM IST
Ten years after the birth of 3G, it’s finally here. Well, almost. You have a choice of dozens of inexpensive 3G phones. You can even buy a 3G service today, in parts of India. While the state-run BSNL and MTNL have been dabbling in 3G since last year, they haven’t made big inroads despite aggressive pricing, partly due to spotty coverage. But there are also some 3G or near-3G options if you’re looking for fast data from CDMA operators. Now, with the finance ministry finally giving the green signal, the auction of spectrum for 3G—and the roll-out of services by Airtel, Reliance and other private players—is round the corner.
Why 3G?
All mobile phones make voice calls well but most struggle with data, especially the heavy stuff—file downloads, big emails, graphics, video. That’s where 3G comes in. A 3G phone will do file or video downloads much faster than your current mobile phone.
3G, or third generation, is a group of technologies that allows much faster speeds than the older GSM mobile phone system we mostly use today, informally called 2G. It isn’t one standard, but a family of technologies that allow fast wireless connections over a large area, including CDMA2000 (the 3G variant of CDMA), UMTS (universal mobile telecommunications system) and others, with Wimax (worldwide interoperability for microwave access) added most recently, two years ago. They all allow fast wireless connections over a large area.
What do you need?
Just a compatible phone, and a subscription to a 3G service. Many modern phones—especially above Rs10,000—are 3G-ready. But the service isn’t so easy to find. The government-run BSNL and MTNL run 3G services, which is limited to some areas. For instance, I use an MTNL 3G modem on my laptop, but it does not work at 3G speeds in Gurgaon and in most of Delhi—it just works at the same low speeds my old data card runs at. But this should change when telephone companies such as Airtel start selling 3G services later this year.
For now, though, if you need fast data access on the go, you can buy high-speed data cards or plug-in USB modems from Reliance and Tata Indicom. They don’t like to call them 3G so as not to upset the government, which hasn’t allowed private players to offer 3G services yet. So they use names such as Photon+, and offer “up to 3 Mbps” download speeds. But they’re 3G all right. They can’t sell it for phone handsets yet, though—just for data cards.
What you can do with it
Once you have a 3G phone and service, you can, for starters, use data services together with voice calls (with your old GSM services, you can’t do both at the same time: When you make a call, your data connection is put on hold, and email downloads and other data activity suspended while your call is on). And 3G is fast enough for IP telephony, so you can make cheap long-distance calls.
Second, your normal data activity speeds up with 3G—email and browsing, which are slow on a GSM mobile, become crisp and snappy. You’ll be able to go to watch YouTube videos, which you can’t do on a GSM GPRS connection. A good way to get a flavour of what it feels like is to switch on Wi-Fi, if your phone supports that. Then connect to your office or home Wi-Fi network and try browsing, viewing YouTube videos, etc. It’s quick, like you’d expect on a PC with a broadband connection. That’s how it will be with 3G.
Then you can make a video call with someone else who has a 3G phone and service. That’s a phone call where you can see the caller over live video. Each phone should have 3G webcam, which is really a low-resolution, front-facing camera.
And you can buy a 3G card or USB modem—even today—to plug into your laptop, to speed up your browsing on the go.
When? When? When?
If you’re tired of hearing about how good 3G’s going to be, future tense, I don’t blame you. 3G is 10 years old. The ITU (International Telecom Union) defined the set of standards called IMT-2000, informally called 3G, in 1999, to allow for future growth, bandwidth and diverse multimedia applications.
For now, there’s 2.5G. You probably already have it, if you subscribe to GPRS data. 2.5G is a bit faster than 2G...and a stepping stone to 3G. Plain old GSM, or 2G, is too slow for data, working at a so last-century 14.4 kbps. But the commonly available GPRS or EDGE service which, like 3G, is a packet-switched technology, is faster. EDGE claims speeds of 144 kbps (though you can actually expect about half of that). On the CDMA side, there’s CDMA2000 1x, also “nearly 3G”. But 3G is much faster.
What’s next? 4G?
Yes, and it’s already on the cards. The fourth generation of mobile tech is expected to be based on IP, the same standard powering the Internet, with integrated facilities such as voice, data and streaming multimedia—and much faster speeds, exceeding 100 Mbps.
4G will make way for the next generation of services, such as high-quality video (including HDTV). And it won’t distinguish between voice and data. Everything will run on IP, using a new address system called IPv6.
Just as 3G isn’t one standard, 4G too is a family of standards. The difference is that they are intended to be interoperable, with “smooth handoff across networks”. Which means that if you’re travelling down the highway watching a movie online on a particular service provider, and you move into an area where the signal’s weak, your video viewer will look for another, different service and smoothly hand over to that service without interrupting your video, while you move at 60 miles an hour.
3G gadgets
1. iPhone: The 3GS hit US shelves last Friday. The older 8MB iPhone 3G is down to $99.
2. Nokia has dozens of 3G handsets, from the low-end 2730 classic (Rs7,000) and the mid-range E52 (Rs14,000) to the top-end N97 (Rs35,000). Their predecessors (E50 and E51, between Rs8,000 and Rs11,000) too are 3G phones.
3. Vodafone 3G cards: 3G cards and high-speed USB modems such as this and Tata Indicom’s Photon+ promise 3 Mbps or more download speeds. While real-life speeds will scrape 1 Mbps, that’s over 10 times what you can get today.
4. Google Android: Powers the HTC Dream handset (aka the T-Mobile G1) and depends heavily on 3G.
5. Qualcomm: Plans to power smartbooks and next-gen smartphones with its Snapdragon 3G chipsets.
6. MTNL 3G: You can use MTNL’s 3G service in New Delhi and Mumbai with phone handsets or USB modems. The price for the service ranges from Rs250 a month to an unlimited data plan for Rs2,500.
7. Samsung S8300: Samsung’s 8MP, autofocus S8300 (Rs27,000) phone lets you take high-quality images and have them appear on the Web in minutes.
8. Smartbooks: These next-gen devices will fill the gap between smartphones and netbooks, as in this prototype from Freescale. They can be switched on instantly, are always connected “to the cloud”, and run all day on a single charge.
Prasanto K. Roy is chief editor at CyberMedia.
Draw your Google route
Don’t have a pedometer but still want to measure distance or count the calories burned on your walks or jogs around town? The Gmaps Pedometer (www.gmap-pedometer. com), created by a marathon runner, lets you draw your route on a Google map. The pedometer then shows you the total mileage between the starting and ending points—and the calories used to cover the distance.
Get connected
Bobby, $10, is an app that turns the iPhone into a virtual remote. It sets up a series of on-screen remotes, one for each item in your home theatre, with all the expected commands of your physical remotes in roughly the same place as you’d expect them. To operate it, you need to purchase an additional piece of equipment, a Global Caché Network Adapter ($136, from ASIHome). Because the iPhone cannot send out IR signals, the type used to remotely control video components, the network adapter acts as an intermediary.
BlackArmor for your chunky server storage
Do you have a huge collection of music, movies or photos? Looking for chunky server storage? Wondering what robust external drive to plonk it all on securely and then rest in peace? Check out Seagate’s BlackArmor hard disks and network storage range. With full-system automated backup and restore software pre-loaded, the drives strive to protect you against PC failures, data crashes and virus attacks. And for data security there’s AES 256-bit government-grade encryption. The range includes a portable 500GB, a 1GB eSATA and USB 2.0 external, as well as 2TB/4TB NAS (network attached storage) servers at the top end.
— Ashish Bhatia
Loop (ing) with a mouse
Hillcrest Labs has introduced a production version of its radically rethought PC mouse. It is pushing its Loop mouse (which it prefers to call a pointer), $99, as the perfect device to use when you’re watching video websites to which you’ve gained access. Instead of pushing your finger around a track pad, you simply wave the Loop pointer to move the cursor on screen (movements are picked up by a USB device connected to the PC). And because the pointer uses radio, you don’t need to aim it at the PC; in fact, the computer can even be put inside a cabinet.
Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com
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First Published: Wed, Jun 24 2009. 12 30 AM IST
More Topics: 3G | Downloads | Email | Video | Phones |