Super 3G's Big Promise

Kenji Hall

Mention fiber-optic connections to many Netizens, and you'll likely get their adrenaline pumping. At speeds of 100 megabits per second, fiber-optic technology promises to eliminate the wait for Web pages to load. What if wireless tech was just as fast?

That's the future NTT DoCoMo is promoting. By 2010, Japan's No. 1 wireless carrier is expected to launch a data service that offers transmission speeds as zippy as fiber-optic lines. The company's current format, dubbed 3G, or third-generation, isn't exactly slow. At 384 kilobits per second, it's good enough for the on-the-go lifestyle of most Japanese, who frequently use their phones to hunt for nearby restaurants or to do quick Google searches. The latest handsets are even equipped to do low-resolution video phone calls. But 3G can't handle high-res video streaming and downloads the way broadband land lines can. If Super 3G (or Long Term Evolution, LTE, as it's also called) ever becomes a reality, it would boost wireless transmission speeds by as much as 260 times and make video downloads to mobile devices quicker and less of a headache.

According to DoCoMo, "the Super 3G standard is expected to provide superfast downlink data rates of over 100 megabits per second and uplink data rates of over 50 megabits per second, low-latency data transmission, and improved spectrum efficiency."

DoCoMo's hope is that this will smooth the transition to 4G, or what's known in industry-speak as "Beyond 3G." The company has spent more than $20 billion on 3G base stations in recent years. Super 3G would increase transmission speeds while keeping equipment investments in check. That's a good deal for both the operator and consumers, since it would help to bring down mobile phone bills, which are among the highest in the world. This year, the standards body, 3GPP, is set to announce final technological specs. My heartrate is already quickening just thinking about it.

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