All Information About iPhone 3G: [Review]

All About iPhone 3G
- Specs, Information, Compartion specs and review

Here's another look at a few key misunderstandings that still remain. This article presents some clarifications related to data networks: the EDGE and WiFi supported on the iPhone, and the EVDO and HSUPA that are not.

But first: several readers pointed out that unlocked GSM phones can be used on other providers networks for data service; this depends upon the carrier. As I noted however, certain network applications on the iPhone will still only work with Cingular service, including visual voicemail.

The iPhone will likely never support EVDO. I presented EVDO as an example of a mythical high end feature that would add to the cost of the iPhone. Technically, upgrading to EVDO might not in itself necessitate a much higher price tag for the iPhone, but changing Apple's strategy to include EVDO most certainly would.

That's because EVDO is not a close competitor to EDGE, but rather a different generation of a different set of radio technologies. EVDO is related to CDMA, the set of radio technologies designed by QUALCOMM and sold by services providers Verizon and Sprint in the US, among others.

In contrast, EDGE is the existing standard for GSM data networks. GSM is a direct rival to CDMA. In the US, Cingular is the largest GSM provider, so Cingular does not--and will not ever--support EVDO, just as Verizon does not support EDGE. They are rival families of mobile data technology.

EDGE offers service rated at about quarter Mb/sec. That's about twice the speed of ISDN (.128 MB/sec), but significantly slower than even the slowest offerings of DSL (.3 to 1.5 Mb/sec), and a fraction of the throughput of 802.11b WiFi (typical: 6.5 Mb/sec).

EDGE is a big step behind EVDO in performance, but as I noted, the iPhone is unlikely to support EVDO in the future because the next step for EDGE isn't CDMA's EVDO, but rather GSM's own next generation, artfully named HSUPA. So future versions of the iPhone in 2008 or 2009 will likely be updated support HSUPA, not EVDO.

EDGE is far faster than GPRS or old dialup networks however (both are about .03 Mb/sec), so while EDGE not capable of supporting iChat style video conferencing, it is useful enough to browse web pages, receive HTML emails, and support the other web service features demonstrated on the iPhone such as Google Maps.

EDGE is also widely deployed in the US. Newer generation technologies, including HSUPA and EVDO, are not. If the iPhone supported newer networks at launch, it would offer users less data service coverage at higher service fees. HSUPA does promise a future path for faster data, and will no doubt unlock new applications for future phones.

Along with the confusing acronym soup of HSDPA and HSOPA, HPUPA competes against other mobile 3G standards. Wikipedia says the next set of standards are edging out existing CDMA2000 and EVDO rollouts in some markets:

“South Korea's KTF and SK Telecom are building nationwide HSDPA networks, with SK Telecom announcing that by first half of 2007 it will be selling HSDPA handsets to its customers and that it will be cutting funding to its CDMA2000 network. A similar situation occurred in Australia, with Telstra announcing the closure of its CDMA-EVDO network and its replacement with a HSDPA network.”

Inside Those Acronyms
It's also important to point out that EDGE, HSUPA, EVDO and similar monikers are themselves blanket terms that each cover a range of service revisions or classes. All “EDGE” services are not created equal, so comparisons require clarification. Anyone using the terms without any context may be talking beyond their actual knowledge.

For example, EVDO has a Revision 0, A, and B. Rev 0 is the existing service, A is being deployed, and B is a future specification. So when people drop the name EVDO, which do they mean? It's often difficult to know unless things are spelled out. EDGE also comes in various "classes" offering different service speeds.

What is Generation 3?
Further, while EVDO and HSUPA are commonly referred to as “3G” mobile networks, some classes of EDGE can also fit that description, according to Wikipedia. It states:

"EDGE can carry data speeds up to 236.8 kbit/s for 4 timeslots (theoretical maximum is 473.6 kbit/s for 8 timeslots) in packet mode and will therefore meet the International Telecommunications Union's requirement for a 3G network, and has been accepted by the ITU as part of the IMT-2000 family of 3G standards. It also enhances the circuit data mode called HSCSD, increasing the data rate of this service."

In most contexts, EDGE is referred to as “2.75G,” but since EDGE describes a family of service classes, there is some overlap in the definitions. Anyone too bent out of shape about EDGE officially “being or not being” 3G is also likely to be parroting marketing information rather than speaking from actual experience.

Branding or conventional naming of service standards is not nearly as interesting as the real world performance of a specific application in actual conditions. People who argue about numbers or bullet points are probably unaware of the bigger picture and what difference customers will actually see.

EDGE vs WiFi
In addition to the factors of availability and cost, another reason for Apple going with EDGE rather than a faster network is that the iPhone won't have to rely solely on mobile phone networks for data. It's designed to use WiFi wherever it’s available.

WiFi is far faster than any mobile networks now in place, including EVDO and HSUPA (2.5 - 5.76 Mb/sec). Typical 802.11b and g offer 6.5 Mb/sec and 20 Mb/sec transfers. WiFi is so much faster because it is designed to serve a much smaller range of local service.

For iPhone users in a school, home, or office with existing WiFi service, automatic use of WiFi for data service will not only be far faster, but far cheaper: free in many cases.

Why Apple Can Force WiFi Adoption
Clearly, it is not the most brilliant of analysts who are complaining that Apple isn't offering a EVDO, a rival provider's technology, or is not forcing users to use bleeding edge 3G networks that are currently under-built and overpriced, when iPhone users will be able to use much faster and cheaper WiFi service in many areas.

With the iPhone, Apple is forcing Cingular to support and subsidize a phone that will save users money. That makes the iPhone far more useful to far more people. Remember that Apple wants to sell lots of hardware, not force users into paying high prices for mobile service.

Again, that puts Apple in the position of giving its users a better product. The prospect of high iPhone hardware sales forced Cingular to court iPhone users to get their business.

It would better suit Verizon to have mobile phones beholden to using its EVDO network for every bit of data that gets transmitted, but Apple isn't in Verizon's pocket the way Palm, Microsoft, and other vendors of phones are.

Remember that Verizon is famous for disabling Bluetooth and blocking WiFi service so that its users have no choice but to use its overpriced and underwhelming EVDO network.

Apple’s disruption in the mobile phone space is good news for anyone sick of paying too much for phone service, as it will greatly increase competition in the mobile phone and service industry. That will ultimately benefit everyone, not just Apple's customers. Analysts mocking the iPhone should know that.