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  Vecta on Third & Fourth Generation Mobile
  Third (3G) and Fourth Generation (4G) mobile systems follow earlier generations of cellular mobile telephony, like TAC and GSM, which used, respectively, analogue and digital technology to provide a predominantly voice-oriented service.

Third generation systems exploit the increased processing power in handsets and more efficient communication protocols to make better use of spectrum and, with optimisations like HSPA, provide much higher speed data services opening the way to mobile interactive multimedia.

Fourth Generation systems exploit multiple antenna and bandwidth options to achieve even higher speed and/or longer range data services.

  Following the very high operating profits made from early generations by mobile telecom operators many governments, especially in the UK and Germany, demanded - and received - very high licence fees for radio spectrum released in 2000 for use on 3G systems. These fees seriously increased the indebtedness of most Telecom players forcing them to shed other assets or merge in order to remain viable as the global telechnology economy shrank in 2001-2. In contrast some governments leased spectrum at very low rates to encourage rollout and takeup of the services. Technical difficulties added further financial pressure by delaying rollout.

3, introduced by Hutchison on 3rd March 2003 in both Italy and the UK, suffered from costly handsets and limited network coverage and had to resort to bundling cut-price voice calls to gain market traction while the more established players, at least before HSPA roll-outs, treated 3G mostly as additional voice bandwidth rather than a major service opportunity.

The so-called 2.5G technologies - GPRS (Generalised Packet Radio Service), HSCSD (High Speed Circuit Switched Data) and EDGE - are incremental enhancements to the second generation systems that allow faster data rates within the existing central infrastructure (they each require technology-specific handsets). WAP ( Wireless Application Protocol) is often included as a 2.5G technology as it increases the functionality of the handset, primarily to access mobile internet-based services. However, channel noise often misled the TCP/IP protocol acknowledgement mechanisms into using much lower data rates than were possible to the frustration of users and operators.

Second generation mobile systems were limited to data rates of 9.6Kbps over a circuit-oriented connection in which the user paid for every second of use. Packet-oriented "always-on" connections need a different payment model which may turn out to be even more complex than today's confusing menu of mobile voice tariffs. These new models are likely to follow those of entertainment services like Digital TV or information services provided by ISPs.

Third generation technology is more efficient, providing voice calls at lower costs, and more capable, providing higher data rates to and from "always-on" handsets, but actual bandwidths achieved, prior to HSPA upgrades, were disappointing. Fourth generation systems offer higher bandwidths but often only within limited distances from a base station but, when operated on lower frequencies, do have major distance advantages and the capability to deliver better coverage indoors.

The advent of SmartPhones like iPhone, followed by Android and WindowsPhones, has answered many of the questions on how the bandwidth can be used and has created a demand for more flexible high-speed communications than provided by islands of WiFi, especially in US, and lower-cost handsets in developing mass-scale markets like China and India.

Current concerns include system performance, application development, delivery economics, service demand, and cannibalisation by other wireless networking technologies.
Fourth generation mobile technology is being deployed successfully and profitably but it has taken time and all the initial investors have not seen the full benefit of their initial confidence. However larger players are taking the opportunity to reduce their rollout costs, reduce operating costs, and introduce attractive new services. Smaller operators are unlikely to survive alone. All must apply the lessons of operational excellence to their skills in customer intimacy and product leadership.

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