With 3, Hutchison's U.K. greenfield mobile network, going live shortly and other operators close to Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) 3G launches--research company EMC estimates 40 this year--it seems users are nearer to the fast and versatile mobile telecoms promised land they have heard so much about in recent years.
However, news out of the 3GSM show in Cannes last week confirms a number of operators will take another step before fully fledged UMTS networks--in Europe as well as other continents.
EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) is sometimes referred to as 2.75G, sitting in the evolution path between 2.5G GSM/GPRS networks and 3G networks of the W-CDMA--or UMTS--flavour. So far equipment companies have been guarded about which operators will use EDGE, mainly because it is seen as an embarrassment that the leap to 3G cannot yet be taken.
This week the EDGE Operators' Forum (EOF) announced that "EDGE will be a market reality during 2003," with operators and vendors giving it "their full commitment".
Partly because of spectrum issues it is widely accepted at least three operators in the US will move to EDGE. However, Nokia admits to being involved in over 20 rollouts in 13 countries, some in its own back yard in Europe.
Jarmo Leivo, Nokia Networks director for W-CDMA marketing, said: "EDGE is a chance to enhance existing networks but EDGE is no W-CDMA."
The fear, however, is that some operators holding W-CDMA licences--costing the legendary billions in a few cases--may not roll out 3G widely, or maybe at all.
The other main 3G standard besides W-CDMA is CDMA2000, developed by San Diego-based Qualcomm and now used by 36 networks across three continents. Qualcomm initially had a path to a very fast data rate 3G standard but an inbetween technology commonly referred to as CDMA2000 1x, of which there are several variations, has proved so popular in Japan, South Korea and the US that it is now recognised as a workable, respectably fast 3G technology.
Jeff Belk, Qualcomm senior VP marketing, told silicon.com: "What we have learnt is that 3G cannot be faked in any fashion. If it doesn't meet the consumer bar operators won't be able to monetise it."
The EOF refers to EDGE as the "most spectrally efficient of the 3G radio access technologies up to 100Kbps". Ultimately most operators realise that users will decide if it is worthy of the 3G moniker, especially as some will have made the leap in the meantime to W-CDMA 3G.
Silicon.com's Tony Hallet reported from Cannes, France.