Edge Vs. 3G Data Networks

Written by aaron zvi
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Edge Vs. 3G Data Networks
Both Edge and 3G data systems are usually supported from towers. (Cellular Communications Tower image by ryasick from Fotolia.com)

Edge and 3G are two different radio transmission technologies used in cellular networks. Unlike the protocols used to connect voice calls over cell phones, Edge and 3G are data protocols that allow customers to send and receive data with properly equipped cell phones or wireless cards that can plug into a computer. 3G systems offer significantly enhanced speed over Edge connections, and in new phones today Edge is only used as a backup when a 3G link isn't available.

Origins of Edge

Edge is an acronym for "Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution," a radio protocol first deployed in the early 1990s for cellular networks using the GSM standard. Around 2000, the need for more reliable and higher-speed data transmission on GSM networks became apparent. Companies wanted to respond to their subscribers' desire to use their telephones to access data.

Features of Edge

EDGE is the successor to the earlier GSM data transmission standard knows as the "general packet radio service" (GPRS). GPRS first brought the advantage of an "always on" data signal that didn't require dialling a special number to begin a data session. Edge continued the "always on" data protocol, while pushing the transmission speed from GPRS's 50-100 kbps, up to a theoretical maximum of over 230 kbps. While these theoretical speeds are rarely reached, the improved achievable transmission speed of Edge generally enabled much faster data transfer.

Origins of 3G

The term "3G" is shorthand for the third generation of cellphone technology deployment. The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), a U.N. body that aims to make telecommunications equipment interoperable worldwide, crafted the formal protocols for 3G, and the first 3G equipment was deployed in the first years of the new millennium. The distinguishing element of 3G from the previous major generations of cellular radio systems is the equipment's ability to handle high-speed data at rates approaching a broadband Internet connection. The 3G standard quickly swept the globe, and the large majority of modern cellular networks worldwide are compliant with 3G.

What 3G Enables

With its focus on high-speed data, 3G networks have taken a critical role in heavy data transmission tasks for both individuals and businesses. Because 3G connections can match or surpass the speed of a wired broadband Internet connection (new 3G standards enable data rates of over 10 mbps) 3G systems can provide mobile customers with full Internet access, and sometimes streaming video or voice conversations. 3G's real-world speeds can vary widely in practice, because there are a large number of individual substandards within the broader 3G family. The ITU says 3G data connections should provide at least 2 mbps to a stationary user, and 348 kbps to users in a car or other ground vehicle.

Edge vs. 3G

Edge is sometimes described as "3G" because it incorporates some of the transmission principles common in 3G networks. However, its speed is considerable lower than typical 3G systems, and it's more often categorised as a "2.5G" or "2.75G" technology. While Edge is only found on GSM networks, such as AT&T and T-Mobile in the U.S., 3G standards are in use around the world on a range of networks using technologies including GSM and CDMA (such as Sprint and Verizon in the U.S.). 3G-capable telephones offer much higher data speeds than Edge-only units, and 3G data cards for computers allow a near-broadband Internet experience. Edge today is mainly used by older GSM phones and as a fallback for those areas of GSM networks where a 3G signal doesn't reach.

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