April 9, 2010

Step forward still tech-years behind

Along my personal path toward nerd-vana, I listen to a plethora of podcasts on myriad subjects – a special thanks to Merriam Webster’s Word of the Day podcast for teaching me the proper use of “plethora” and “myriad.”

On an episode of Knowledge@Wharton, Scott Snyder, president and COO of Decision Strategies International, was interviewed about his new book, “The New World of Wireless: How to Compete in the 4G Revolution.”

Yeah, you read that right: 4G. I know the world is abuzz with talk about 3G this and 3G that, and how much better your life will be if you just switch to 3G, and how if you take the square root of 3G times the difference of 3G times pi you still end up with 3G and …

Great marketing has the public at large clamoring for this would-be technology du jour, while very few people really understanding what 3G is. Ask 10 different people what 3G is, and be prepared for 3 gazillion different answers. I actually had one person tell me that 3G is a special channel/band on the Internet that you can only access with an iPhone. Another said Colorado’s elevation was too high to get reliable 3G signals, and still another “was pretty sure” it had something to do with the type of batteries you use in your phone.

I’m happy to report that they are all wrong – but sadly, they are still allowed to play outside unsupervised. Third generation, or 3G for short, is a set of standards developed by the International Telecommunications Union that specifies the accessibility and speed for mobile devices. In fact, the real name for the family of standards is International Mobile Telecommunications-2000. I guess 3G just rolls off the tongue better.

The 3G standards are a fairly lengthy affair, much longer than I have room for here, and for the attention you have there. Suffice it to say, 3G was a major step forward in the world of wireless communications – telephone, video and data, i.e., multi-media, to be used in a mobile environment.

Compared to the service standards set forth in 2G (Second Generation Wireless), which upgraded analog service to digital, 3G made it possible for the simultaneous use of speech and data services along with a considerably higher data transfer rate –  up to 14 Mbits per second download speed. This may come as a shock to some of our younger readers, but cell phones used to be nothing more than highly unreliable cordless phones. Implementation of 3G standards has changed all that.

Really old hat, in tech years

One misnomer out there is that 3G is a fairly new “technology.” As we’ve already learned, it isn’t really so much a “technology” as a set of standards. The technology that is actually implemented by way of those standards is really old hat – in tech years (you know, like dog years).

The first commercial 3G wireless networks were started almost a decade ago in Japan. Verizon Wireless introduced its first 3G network in the United States way back in 2003 (remember how we used to wear our hair back then?), and a 3G network was even launched in Iraq in 2007.

What is new is the number of devices that are fully 3G compliant/compatible. Just because your service provider operates on a 3G network doesn’t mean that your phone will, so don’t pull out that bag phone and expect to get anything more than curious stares. My friend who thought 3G was a special Internet channel only available to iPhone users was partially right. The iPhone is a 3G compatible device, but it isn’t the only one.

Adoption and implementation of the 3G network standards also depends on the limitations of the current infrastructure (think cellular towers and data switching stations). Converting a 2G network into a 3G compliant network can be astronomically expensive. And I use the word astronomically quite literally – you’ve heard of communications satellites, haven’t you? Because of these costs, widespread adoption of 3G standards has been slow – in tech years.

So why the brief lesson on 3G networks? One of the things Scott Snyder mentioned on the podcast was how 4G wireless networks would change the way we work and play by creating “one giant wireless ecosystem” that buzzes with innovation. I don’t know about you, but I like the sound of that and would like to explore what all a “wireless ecosystem” would entail. So this month’s column has served as a “where we are” in terms of wireless networks, with the next to be the “where we’re a-headin’.”

Well, I’m throwing on my research hat and venturing off into uncharted waters to gather more information about this coming 4G revolution. Until next time: Cogito. Lego. Diligo.

Michael D. Wailes is an Interactive Developer at Burns Marketing Communications in Johnstown.

Along my personal path toward nerd-vana, I listen to a plethora of podcasts on myriad subjects – a special thanks to Merriam Webster’s Word of the Day podcast for teaching me the proper use of “plethora” and “myriad.”

On an episode of Knowledge@Wharton, Scott Snyder, president and COO of Decision Strategies International, was interviewed about his new book, “The New World of Wireless: How to Compete in the 4G Revolution.”

Yeah, you read that right: 4G. I know the world is abuzz with talk about 3G this and 3G that, and how much better your life will be if…

Related Content