Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Wireless Data - EDGE vs EVDO vs UMTS - Which acronym is right for me?

With every wireless company pushing to garner all of the business users in the US, new products are becoming more and more prevalent. Just this month, T-Mobile announced that they are on board in having a 2.5G data offering, releasing EDGE to their customers. Sprint and Verizon keep talking about their Broadband products, releasing new markets nearly every week. Cingular is still pushing ahead with their EDGE offering and working to complete their UMTS network builds. Ok, too many tech terms and way too many acronyms right? What is the difference between these product offerings and which one makes sense for me?

First, two terms that are the buzz words in wireless are 2.5 and 3G. These are actually standards requirements that state how fast the data must be to meet the minimum to qualify for the fancy label. These actually stand for Second and Third Generation, with 2.5 falling half way between the two. Second Generation was were Packet data finally replaced Circuit Switch data, making the user's experience faster and network costs more reasonable. Third Generation means that the average data rate must be somewhere north of 384 Kbps for the download - very similar to basic DSL speeds to the home. 2.5G was a marketing term for technologies that came out around 2000 that didn't quite make 3G speeds, but exceeded the 14.4 Kbps speeds seen in the late 1990's - better, but not quite good enough. So who does what?

Sprint and Verizon both have CDMA technologies that support 1XRTT and EV-DO. These are technologies based on the same fundamental radio link (EV-DO stands for Evolution, Data Only), so the user's equipment is backwards compatible to their older network. This makes life easier to upgrade and still not require your older subscriber to buy new handsets unless they want the data product. For 1XRTT, the typical user should expect 60-100 Kbps, and the new EV-DO can get up to 4-6 Mbps download rates.

Cingular and T-Mobile both now have GSM/EDGE networks. GSM is the voice system and EDGE is the data side. EDGE data can get up to 384 Kbps, but users will typically see somewhere closer to 80-100 Kbps. In order to compete with EV-DO, Cingular is working on UMTS (Universal Mobile Telephone Standard), which when adding HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) can get similar speeds, but more typically around 250-380 Kbps.

Prices for these networks are all about the same when looking at data only packages. Verizon offers VZ-Acess on EV-DO at $59.99/mo, Sprint $80 for their unlimited data package, Cingular at $79.99, with T-Mobile offering EDGE at $19.99, but this is new and not really published. On their website they list their GPRS data package at $29.99 (GPRS is a bit slower than EDGE, but again they are migrating away to the EDGE capable network).

Which one will work the best for you? That is really depending on how you plan to use it. A PDA phone package, such as with the Blackberry, to do email and some small web browsing will work well on any technology. If you need power downloading, ability to send large file back to the system, or use as Broadband access - WiFi replacement, then the only one that will really give you what you want right now is EV-DO or UMTS. Both get your speeds up to DSL type speeds on the download. Uploading however for all is really at Dial Up type speeds. These system are all asynchronous, with the idea that most users download more than they upload. Be aware of this if you have expectations to do hosting, data transaction services or large picture uploading.

How does each compare to footprint, capacity and/or network issues? Each of these technologies are relatively new and none are selling like hot cakes. Don't let some of the numbers fool you, not many people use these daily, except for the Blackberry users which are only doing email which is not that demanding. Each of these technologies is limited on footprint and none have the range of voice technologies. So if you can make a voice call there is no guarantee you can do data.

EV-DO is a shared technology - one pipe per sector for all users. This means that if there are 50 people in your office all using this technology you will not be happy. However, since the load is small now, people are very excited with what they get. This will only get worse though as more subscribers sigh up. The technology also doesn't extend away from the sites very well, so you need to be in a core area or in close proximity to get full through puts that people publish.

EDGE is more dedicated than EV-DO, but not as able to deal with interference as well based on its technology. That means you have to be even closer to the site in order to max out your speed, or if the network has issues in performance and design, you just won't be very happy. UMTS is very similar to EV-DO, since it too is a CDMA based technology.

How can I get more for less? Well, there is one trick to this that most companies don't publish. All voice phones now basically have data technology built into them. Some try to sell you data cards for laptops known as PCMCIA cards. These are data only. To get your voice phone to do data, basically all you need is a data cable. Even with the new phones with Bluetooth, most carriers have restricted the Bluetooth technology for headsets and not to be used as data links (stupid, stupid, stupid policy). If you go online and get a datacable - most carriers ironically don't sell these, rather trying to get you on a data package, you can use your voice phone as a network connection. The plus here is that these would be add on packages and not require you to buy the data bundle at $60-80. Do a google search for your phone model and your carrier. Some use #777 to trigger data calls, some use *99#.

Good luck in choosing your data packages for wireless. As always if there is another question triggered by my discussion here, feel free to contact me.




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