Thursday, June 26, 2008
What Does "3G" Mean?
With the introduction of the next generation of the iPhone there are a lot of new terms being bandied about. One of them, which has been well-known for years by insiders in the wireless industry, is "3G." It can be confusing to try to figure out some of these abbreviations and especially so in the case of the iPhone - read on to find out why.
"3G" is shorthand for "third generation" and people in the wireless industry (who are just as guilty of using their own language as computer geeks, cooks, the French or attorneys) use it to refer to the phones and networks that function at faster speeds than the previous two generations. The first generation ("1G", if you will) were the original analog cell phones that you might remember... clunky, lousy battery life, static-filled dinosaurs that were compelling at the time because there wasn't an alternative.
The second generation of phones - "2G" is what a lot... in fact, most, people are using today. They are digital phones that have lots of cool features that we've now started to take for granted, such as caller ID and clear reception, but aren't capable of supporting the higher-speed networks which are now being deployed in (mostly larger) cities. Europeans are ahead of us in this area, as are most Asian systems, because we have a patchwork of protocols in the U.S. instead of a consistent, mandated protocol as there is in other places.
"3G" (third generation) phones are different. With a 3G phone you can collect email, browse the web, watch video, use live videoconferencing and pretty much anything else you can do from a computer with a broadband connection. In fact, you could view 3G as "broadband for cell phones" and be fairly accurate. It's not going to give you the same speeds as your cable modem, but it's not too far removed from the speeds of a standard DSL line and, compared to the 2G speeds, is pretty darn fast.
The reason that it's particularly confusing in regards to the iPhone is that the iPhone is now in its second iteration - some would say its second generation. So, while the iPhone itself is in its second generation, the technology that it uses is actually "3G," thus the "3G" designator that Apple is using to differentiate it from the original, first generation iPhone. If they wanted to be really specific about it, they could call it "iPhone v2, using 3G wireless technology." But marketing geeks have their own language, too, and it's heavily abbreviated. Thus the shortening of the whole thing to "iPhone 3G."
I hope that this helps you understand the differences between the various generations of wireless technology. If you'd like to discuss this in more detail please don't hesitate to contact me directly and I'll try to assist further.