June 27, 2001, 12:40 PM — 3G: a wireless marvel or an investment disaster? This question is weighing heavily on the minds of many telecommunications carriers around the globe, especially as the initial allure of 3G wireless technologies wear off. The technology promises high-speed data, mobile streaming video and anytime-anywhere access. But implementation costs have significantly dampened enthusiasm. Depending on whom you ask, 3G wireless technology will be the greatest innovation in the 21st century, or the biggest bunch of hype in the world. As it stands, 3G is riddled with the deep craters indicative of an evolving wireless landscape. Naturally then the confusion surrounding this new and uncharted territory can be overwhelming, and the danger of losing one's way great. To help sort out the challenges and avoid potential pitfalls, we present this 3G map as a guide for the seemingly treacherous journey through the wireless world.
3G wireless technology is a global communication technology that makes possible packet-based transmission of digitized voice, data and video. The 3G umbrella encompasses a range of competing wireless technologies, such as Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) 2000, Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service (UMTS) and wideband CDMA (WCDMA). The International Telecommunication Union last year spelled ot the guidelines for 3G in the IMT-2000 framework as being capable of data transmission speeds of 144K bit/sec inside a moving vehicle and 2M bit/sec in a fixed location, using packet-based rather than circuit-switched technology and permitting global roaming.
The race to 3G is about spectrum. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the U. S., where a shortage of frequencies may seriously undermine 3G implementation. In an effort to comply with an agreement made at the World Radio Conference (WRC) in the spring of 2000, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is examining ways to make more spectrum available for 3G. The range from 1710 to 1855 MHz, in addition to the 2520 to 2670 MHz frequency band, was determined to be the global spectrum assignment for 3G applications at the WRC.
Currently, the U.S. Department of Defense uses this 1.7 GHz band that is being eyed by prospective 3G wireless carriers for services such as wireless high-speed Internet access. The Defense Department uses this spectrum for satellite control and military purposes. According to the Defense Department, relocating to another portion of the spectrum would cost billions of dollars and take a decade or two to achieve. A proposed alternative has been for wireless providers to share the spectrum with the Defense Department, but that would impose many restrictions on the Defense Department and the carrier's operations. It remains to be seen how the FCC handles this sensitive issue.