Wireless Data Technology Overview

Posted by Bob Russell On October - 15 - 2009

Wireless data standards evolve over time with technology advancements in what are called “Generations”.   Each succeeding generation introduces higher data rates, additional features and network enhancements. The first wireless network—known as 1G—was deployed in the 1980s.  2G was introduced in the early 1990s and today 3G is implemented throughout the majority of the world.  4G is now available in a limited number of cities.  Over the next two years, 4G should become widely available with speeds up to 10 times faster than 3G.

The dominant cellular/wireless data technologies are based on Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) and Global System for Mobile communication (GSM).

GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) is the dominant global standard for cellular communications. GSM originated in Europe in the late 1980s and has since become dominant. Today, GSM represents 80% of global digital subscribers. In the United States the largest wireless carriers for GSM are AT&T and T-Mobile. GSM data services are defined as Edge, GPRS, UMTS and HSDPA.

CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) is a digital technology developed by Qualcomm and is most common in North America.  CDMA is “spread spectrum” technology allowing many users to occupy the same time and frequency allocations in a given band/space. The CDMA air interface is used in both 2G and 3G networks.  It offers good secure coverage in the United States where the largest carriers are Verizon, Sprint, and Alltel.  Coverage outside of North America for CDMA is generally not as common as GSM coverage.

The following chart summarizes data throughput by technology standard/generation: 

Throughput Summary

Throughput Summary

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