Tue, 11 Nov 2003

3G technology is the future that we dreamed of

Eva C. Komandjaja The Jakarta Post Jakarta

As children, we imagined what the future would look like. Cars gliding through the air, funny-shaped tall buildings, people wearing silver jumpsuits, and the most intriguing, an electronic gadget, which comprised of a computer, TV and cellular phone, all in one.

Well, that fantasy is now a reality. The new third generation (3G) wireless networks bring the future into our hands.

"This 3G technology is already here, we do not have to wait," said Harry Nugraha, senior director of Qualcomm International. Qualcomm developed the Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) digital wireless technology, which formed the basis of 3G.

The networks can be accessed not only from cellular phones but also from notebook computers and Personal Data Assistants (PDAs), that support the technology. Therefore, 3G-networks-enabled gadgets should be referred to as 3G devices, not 3G cellular phones.

The development of these advanced networks was simultaneous with the availability of the first generation of cellular phone networks (1G) -- Advanced Mobile Phone Service (AMPS) -- in 1983. These networks used analog signals and their only function was to facilitate phone calls. Within a few years, new subscribers signed up for the service, the networks were heavily frequented and dropped calls and busy signals posed a significant problem.

To solve such problems by accommodating more traffic, the wireless industry developed digital technologies, namely the Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) and Global System for Mobile (GSM). Both use a time-sharing protocol to provide three to four times more capacity than the analog system. Not only can subscribers make phone calls, but send text messages and connect to the Internet using Wireless Application Protocol (WAP).

The 2.5G phone with General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) connection became available recently in an interim stage between GSM technology and third generation (3G) technology. The 2.5G networks transfer data at speeds of 114Kbps (kilobits per second) faster than 2G networks. Subscribers can alternate between using the Internet, sending or receiving multimedia messages (sound and picture messages) and making phone calls, (without losing the connection).

Another technology, called CDMAOne, offers still more benefits to subscribers and operators, such as an increase in capacity, to eight to 10 times that of an AMPS analog system. Call quality is also improved, with better sound and increased talk time for portable devices.

In 1999, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) defined requirements for 3G service, including improved system capacity and compatibility with second generation (2G) technology and also high speed packet data service.

"3G services offer a speed of up to 384Kbps in urban environments and are expected to reach 2Mbps in fixed or in- building environments, and much more mobile applications," said Harry.

"There are three 3G technologies so far, CDMA2000, WCDMA and TD-SCDMA," he explained.

Migration paths from existing systems such as GSM, TDMA and CDMA to 3G technologies already exist, so wireless subscribers around the world need not worry about whether they can use their devices or not.

To experience the 3G technology, CDMAOne can directly migrate to CDMA2000 networks while a TDMA operator can go directly to CDMA2000. But an operator will probably choose to migrate from TDMA to GSM/GPRS first, then to WCDMA by following the steps below.

For GSM networks, the path may first lead to GPRS, then operators can switch to WCDMA directly or to Enhanced Data-rate for Global Evolution (EDGE). If they go directly, additional investment will be required as the new spectrum is beyond what most operators posses today.

Another solution is that GSM and TDMA can migrate to 3G technology by employing EDGE. EDGE creates a smooth, cost- efficient migration pathway and allows operators to leverage the considerable advantages of GPRS including fast-connect set-ups and measurably higher bandwidth. EDGE capabilities improve coverage, capacity and streamline migration to a full-service 3G network.

In the 3G, enhanced bandwidth capabilities and advanced terminals enable mobile applications such as video and audio, either real time or downloads, such as two-way video conferencing with audio and video streaming. With faster speed, we do not have to worry about the sounds and the video being choppy.

3G device users will also be able to connect to online gaming experiences or downloads, as well as trying out and purchasing games from the Internet. This technology is making it possible to play games across various handset manufacturers, even computers. "So it is possible for a person to play a multi-user game from his/her cell phone while the other player is using his/her computer," said Harry.

Other new applications are the implanted Global Positioning System (GPS) chips inside the device to support location-based services, making it possible to identify the location of a cell phone when it is turned on.

Businesspeople will be able to use this technology to track their fleets and personnel, parents can use it to track their children and 3G-device owners can trace their stolen gadgets.

But the 3G device also brings with it security issues. Since the device functions as an e-wallet for subscriber's electronic cash, ideally the device should be rendered useless once it is lost. Perhaps in the future, it will be equipped with high- security measures such as voice, fingerprint or iris recognition.

In Indonesia, a bidding process for a 3G license was arranged by the Directorate General of Post and Telecommunications early in October. PT. Cyber Access Communications has won the first 3G license in Indonesia. This means that we will be able to enjoy the 3G network soon.