Monday, March 15, 2010

Are Three "Gs" Better then Two "Gs"?

The battle continues between AT&T and Verizon. “My 3G network is better than your 3G network!” Maps fill the pages of TV Screens, newspapers and magazines comparing the networks’ coverage. Both promise a more robust and universal network. A week or so ago I was invited to speak before the Harrison Historical Society about new technology. Among the very insightful questions was one about this very issue. The question began with a request to define the term “smart phone.” To answer that question we need to define what all these “Gs” really mean.

Back in the dark ages of mobile phones when the smallest of the available devices was briefcase-size and had a battery that weighed a pound, all mobile or “cell” phones used a network dubbed “1G.” The “G” stands for generation and this network technology was the first generation. It was developed in the early 1980s and was fine for the analog devices in service at that time. It did require phones with protruding antennas and many cars required a little black antenna to be affixed to the rear window. In fact, in the early days that antenna was a sort of status symbol indicating that the driver had a cool new cell phone. You could even buy fake antennas to fool your neighbors that you were part of the cell generation.

The 1G networks were soon replaced by 2G, the first of the digital networks. With the number of mobile phone users exploding in the USA and around the world, the old analog system just could not handle the traffic. 2G systems could accommodate 50 or more simultaneous conversations on the same frequency and allowed for smaller phones with built in antennas. It was not, however, capable of efficiently handling data.

As more and more people wanted to be able to be connected while on the go, not only with voice but with email, the web, navigation services, and now even social networking, the carriers like Verizon and AT&T needed a revolutionary upgrade and that resulted in the current 3G, and soon to be prevalent, 4G networks.

The smart phone requires these networks as it essentially is not only a mobile telephone but can handle many of the tasks once requiring a computer. Next week we will look at smart phones in more depth and answer the question about who has the better G.

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