Understanding 3G technology

August 27, 2008
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, NAIROBI August 25 – Mobile telephony is the fastest-growing technology in Africa and around the globe. This is well reflected by the Kenyan example.

Mobile telephone services in Kenya started in 1992 with analogue systems, then known as Extended Total Access Communication System (ETACS), which was commercially launched in 1993.

During this entry period, mobile services were so expensive that it was only a few within the upper echelon of the society that could afford them.

 The cost of owning a mobile handset was as high as Sh250, 000. This resulted in a marginal mobile subscriber growth of less than 20,000 for a period of seven years (from 1993 – 1999).
 
The enactment of the Kenya Communications Act 1998 led to the introduction of competition in the cellular mobile industry.

The Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK) licensed the recently privatised Safaricom Limited and Kencell, which later became Celtel, and now Zain.

These developments have precipitated a phenomenal growth in the number of subscribers, as well as the geographic expansion of the cellular mobile service in the country.

Similarly, the mobile phone technology has grown with time. The technology has come in as many different strokes, as there are possibilities.

Mobile telephones have been classified into technological strata called generations.

To date, there are three generations on record. The first generation which is commonly referred to as 1G began in the late 1970s and lasted through the 1980s.

These systems featured the first ‘true mobile phone systems’, known at first as ‘cellular mobile radio telephone.’

The networks used analog voice signaling, and were little more sophisticated than the repeater networks used by amateur radio operators.

Then came the second generation, (2G) which began in the 90s and much of this technology is still in use.2G cell phones feature digital voice encoding.

Examples include Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) and Global System for Mobile (GSM) communications, which is the most popular standard for mobile phones in the world.

Since its inception, 2G technologies steadily improved, with increased bandwidth, packet routing, and the introduction of multimedia.

CDMA refers to any of several protocols used in so-called second-generation (2G) and third-generation (3G) wireless communications. 

It is a form of multiplexing, which allows numerous signals to occupy a single transmission channel, optimizing the use of available bandwidth.

GSM is a digital mobile telephone system widely used in Europe and other parts of the world including Kenya. It uses a variation of Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA) and is the most widely used of the three digital wireless telephone technologies (TDMA, GSM, and CDMA).

The technology digitises and compresses data, then sends it down a channel with two other streams of user data, each in its own time slot. It operates at either the 900 MHz or 1,800 MHz frequency bands.

Recently, third generation (3G) was launched into various markets with the Kenyan market not exempted. 3G refers to the third generation of developments in wireless technology, especially mobile communications. It has a greater capacity and performance compared to the preceding generations.

Among its features are: Enhanced multimedia (voice, data, video, and remote control); usability on all popular modes (cellular telephone, e-mail, paging, fax, videoconferencing, and Web browsing; broad bandwidth, high speed (upwards of 2 Megabytes per second-Mbps) and roaming capability throughout Europe, Japan, and North America.

While 3G is generally considered applicable mainly to mobile wireless, it is also relevant to fixed wireless and portable wireless such as laptops and personal computers.

A 3G system is operational from any location on, or over, the earth’s surface, including use in homes, businesses, government offices, medical establishments, the military, personal and commercial land vehicles, private and commercial watercraft and marine craft, private and commercial aircraft (except where passenger use restrictions apply), portable (pedestrians, hikers, cyclists, campers), and space stations and spacecraft.

The technology offers the potential to keep people connected at all times and in all places. Researchers, engineers, and marketers are faced with the challenge of accurately predicting how much technology consumers will actually be willing to pay for.

Another challenge faced by 3G services is competition from other high-speed wireless technologies, especially mobile WiMAX, and ability to roam between different kinds of wireless networks.

The status of mobile wireless communications in Kenya as of mid this year, was a blend of 2nd and 3rd generation technologies.

Safaricom CEO, Michael Jospeh spoke to Capital News and says 3G is a technology that allows a consumer to have faster internet connectivity, using a mobile device.

Joseph says it is a very simple, ‘easy-to-use technology’ that is affordable and therefore ideal for people with need of high speed internet such as students, business people.
He says Safaricom currently offers the technology in Mombasa and Nairobi at a cost of Sh8 per Megabyte (MB) and is also available at a fixed cost a month.

The elated CEO believes that the entry of the 3G technology is a data revolution to the Kenyan mobile telephony industry and will play a great deal in developing the fast growing industry.

He says wherever there’s coverage of the technology, there will be ‘a guarantee for High speed internet’.

Joseph explains that for one to enjoy this advanced technology he or she needs to purchase compatible devices such as a third generation mobile phone and set up the equipment and voila! You are good to go! This of course has to be within the coverage area.

 “I think with more technology coming and lots of innovation, with high speed, Kenya will continue to play its rightful part in the world economy,” said Joseph.

He says that Kenya will soon be on the cutting edge for technology in the region.

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