How Cell Phones Work

By: Marshall Brain, Jeff Tyson & Julia Layton

Cell-phone Network Technologies: 3G

Queen of the selfie, Kim Kardashian, takes a picture with her smartphone of herself and friend La La Anthony at a New York Knicks game.
Digital Vision/Thinkstock

3G technology came along to support increased data needs. 3G stands for "third generation" -- this makes analog cellular technology generation one and digital/PCS generation two. 3G technology is intended for the true multimedia cell phone -- typically called smartphones -- and features increased bandwidth and transfer rates to accommodate Web-based applications and phone-based audio and video files.

3G comprises several cellular access technologies. Common ones include:


  • CDMA2000 - based on 2G Code Division Multiple Access
  • WCDMA (UMTS) - Wideband Code Division Multiple Access
  • TD-SCDMA - Time-division Synchronous Code-division Multiple Access

3G networks have potential transfer speeds of up to 3 Mbps (about 15 seconds to download a 3-minute MP3 song). For comparison, the fastest 2G phones can achieve up to 144Kbps (about 8 minutes to download a 3-minute song). 3G's high data rates are ideal for downloading information from the Internet and sending and receiving large, multimedia files. 3G phones are like mini-laptops and can accommodate broadband applications like video conferencing, receiving streaming video from the Web, sending and receiving faxes and instantly downloading e-mail messages with attachments.

3G is a cell phone network protocol. Click here to learn about network protocols for smartphones.

Next we look at the latest network technology: 4G.