This TechTip comes from the mail bag. The reader’s question: What is a 3G phone?

3G refers to third generation mobile phones, and associated networks, which incorporate high-speed Internet access and multimedia. This particular phone/network architecture enables mobile service providers to offer a wide range of more advanced services through greater network throughput and capacity.

The first generation of cell phones were known as AMPS (Analog Mobile Phone Service). Analog networks were a  proven technology for decades, but went dark in 2008 as a result of a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruling. The second generation mobile technology is digital cellular. Digital transmissions allow for more phone conversations in the same amount of radio spectrum.

Third generation mobile phones are what we see on the market today. 3G ‘smartphones’ ( e.g. iPhone and the Google G1) and associated networks provide Internet access, text messaging, photo sharing, video, voice and data services. 3G networks have potential transfer speeds of up to 3 megabits per second (~ 15 secs to download a 3-min MP3) while the fastest 2G networks achieve transfer speeds up to 144 kilobits per second (~ 8 mins to download a 3-min MP3).

(Warning: tech talk acronyms ahead) The major 3G technologies are EV-DO for CDMA networks, such as used by Verizon and Sprint, and HSDPA for GSM networks for carriers such as AT&T and T-Mobile.

Library users are increasingly using their 3G phones to access library content and services.  This is an opportunity for libraries since they can begin extend multimedia content and interactive services to our mobile users including tutorials, virtual tours, and instructional materials. The technology will also allow users to create new content, such as students studying abroad to capture examples of language, images of archeological sites or movies of cultural events.

What’s that?  Yes, you guessed it. 4G mobile networks are already in the pipeline and will have even faster speeds than 3G networks; up to 1 gigabit per second. Mobile WiMAX will be a type of 4G network. Large scale deployment of 4G is about two years away.

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-Eric Schnell