Monday, December 08, 2008

2G, 2.5G, 2.75G... isn't 2G DEAD?!

Most people know that 3G means faster than 2G.
The standard school of thought is that the older 2G data networks will give you roughly the speed of a dial-up modem, whereas the modern 3G can rival some broadband connections.
What people seem to forget is that we're not actually referring to the speed of the network, but rather the generation (hence the G) of technology.

This is why the latest news from Nokia Siemens Networks might seem puzzling to some:
"Nokia Siemens Networks has made the world's first Downlink Dual Carrier EDGE end-to-end call with mobile devices ... that can double data speeds to 592 kbps on existing EDGE-capable GSM networks, providing a user experience that is akin to 3G."

I'll bet many who read this are scratching their heads and saying "Isn't EDGE/2G dead?", I mean, why else would we have made such a stink about the original iPhone being only EDGE in a world of broadband data devices?

The problem is that many people equate EDGE, 2G, and Dial Up data speeds, and that is not necessarily true.
Anyone remember GPRS? It was the GSM data network that predated EDGE. It was the first data network to use packet-switching on a cellular connection, which meant data and voice were separate. The original 2G data was NOT packet-switched, and therefore data sessions exists as a phone call (you would "dial up" the Internet as a phone call much like a home dial up modem, and your line would be in use during the session, often using your cellular minutes), not to mention data speeds averaged around 9.6kpbs or a theoretical 14.4. Meanwhile, GPRS was able to rival dial-up modems, and reach speeds of 60kbps.

Before GPRS was around, the next (3rd) generation of cellular network was being planned, and hoped to offer higher data rates and packet switching, among other features. So when GPRS came around and offered packet switching on the current network without any major overhaul of the equipment, some people wanted to call it 2.5G. This was never an official term, and so it remained "2G" since the 3rd generation technology was almost ready to come out.

Then there was EDGE.
EDGE was supposed to further bridge the gap between 2G and 3G by offering 4x the data speed of GPRS (reaching a theoretical speed of over 240kpbs, although real-world use averages around 150kbps), once again without a complete overhaul of the network as the next generation 3G would require. Some people wanted to call this 2.5G, and those who referred to GPRS as 2.5G wanted to call it 2.75G, and the whole name game became a real mess.
Therefore, no new names were adopted, and the title remained 2G for all of these technologies since it still existed on the second generation network.

Now, Nokia Siemens is offering a theoretical 590kbps for towers using EDGE with little more than a software update. With the low end of 3G data averaging around 500kpbs, this seems to bring 2G hardware into almost the same ballpark as far as data transmission speeds!

This is sure to confuse the general public, not to mention it begs the question of what to refer to this as- 2.875G?

I'm laying claim to that title. If this tech becomes mainstreamed, I'm going to call it 2.875G, and think you all should too!