All about 3G

What is 3G?

3G is the third-generation broadband internet with higher speeds and security. According to international standards, the minimum data transfer rates are two megabits per second (Mbps) for stationary or walking users and 384 kilobits per second in a moving vehicle. Average download speed on a 3G network is between 600 kilobits per second and 1.4 Mbps with peak download speed of up to 3.1 Mbps.

Why do we need 3G on the 2100-MHz spectrum?

The 3G technology we are using before the Oct 16, 2012 auction is real 3G services but most of them are based on the 900- and 1800-MHz spectra. The International Telecommunication Union, the world's telecommunication governing body, has set 2100 MHz as the standard spectrum for 3G connection. This means all smartphones can use the 2100-MHz spectrum but not all support the 900- and 1800-MHz spectra mainly used in Thailand. Users therefore need to make sure whether their carriers support the specific models they are planning to buy.

Thailand also has 45 MHz available on the 2100-MHz spectrum. Without the auction, this bandwidth would be left unused.

The problem with our pre-auction 3G services is a mismatch between the allocated bandwidth and the number of users each carrier has. For example, TOT, which is the only carrier on the 2100-MHz spectrum, has only around 300,000 users while Advanced Info Services (AIS), with 35 million users, is operating on a smaller bandwidth. So it makes sense to ``reallocate'' the spectrum.

Why don't we jump right to 4G?

The 4G technology currently in use today is on the 1800- or 2600-MHz spectra. It is possible to provide 4G service alongside 3G plans since they are not mutually exclusive. Skipping 3G and moving to 4G without making use of the available 2100-MHz spectrum means a precious resource will be untapped. In the future, we can auction the 1800- and 2600-MHz spectra for 4G as needed but we should maximise the use of the 2100-MHz first.

Another reason we should go 3G first is that at present 4G handsets are very expensive while 3G-compatible ones can be had for a few thousand baht. Jumping to 4G means a lot of potential users will be left out because they cannot afford the equipment.

What's so great about 3G?

The higher speeds mean data can be moved faster than even the landline broadband we use on desktop PCs. Normal voice calls are also of better quality. But the benefits are clearer for multimedia use.

How would it affect my life?

It won't change much if you only use mobile phones for calls and SMS. But if you want to connect to the internet anywhere, you'll appreciate the higher speeds. You can send or view pictures or large files in an instant. Photos will load much more quickly on your phones. You can also browse the internet faster without having to wait long for each page to draw.

Moreover, with the right software or apps, you can make conference calls to colleagues or friends. You can watch live TV or video clips with a smooth reception or listen to radio stations from almost anywhere in the world, but this depends on whether broadcasters make their content available on the internet. You can stream music, which means you don't need to keep music files on your phone. Instead you listen to your favourite songs from websites that provide the service anytime you want. Or you can keep your songs and other data on cloud services and access them anywhere with an internet connection.

You can also play games online, competing against gamers from across the world.

When driving, you can use the global positioning system (GPS) to navigate and mapping services for most places in the world.

All of these tasks can be done from your phone or tablet, provided they are 3G-compatible.

Do I have to pay more?

That depends on your mobile operators and their bids in the upcoming 3g auction, as well as market competition.

Why is it more expensive to use 3G than the existing 2G?

Because frequencies are limited resources and 3G network investment is much higher than that of 2G.

What must I do to use 3G?

You have to make sure your phone is 3G-compatible in the 2.1-GHz range and your sim card is activated for data or internet use.

What devices can take advantage of 3G?

You can use it on your mobile phones, tablets or other 3G-compatible mobile devices. You can also use it with a notebook if you have an air card sold by mobile operators.

Can I use 3G on desktop PCs?

You can use it two different ways. The first is to buy an air card or dongle from mobile operators. It looks like a small flash-drive and attaches to a computer via a usb drive to connect to the internet via 3G.

The other way is called ``tethering'', which basically turns your mobile phone into a modem for your desktop computer. By using tethering software, users can access the internet with their cell phones. Other devices can also connect to the phone's internet capabilities through bluetooth, wifi or a usb connection. Before using tethering software, you should check to see if doing so violates the terms of use for your mobile carrier.

Do I have the choice to use 2G rather than 3G because I only need voice communications?

If you just use voice, you don't need to subscribe to 3G plans. But when the 2G concessions run out, the technology will likely become obsolete.

What sort of equipment do I have to buy in order to make use of the technology?

You'll need a 3G-compatible smartphone, tablet or other portable devices compatible with the technology.

Why are 3G-ready phones specific to certain operators?

Mobile operators are using different frequencies for their 3G testing. AIS uses 900 MHz while DTAC and True Move use 850 MHz. This limits the number of phone models you can use. But once every operator obtains a licence for the international standard 2.1-GHz spectrum on Oct 16, we should be able to use any phone model with any operator.

How do I activate 3G settings on my phone?

You shouldn't need to set anything. If you have never used the internet on your phone, call your operator and subscribe to a plan or buy a prepaid card. Your sim card will take care of the rest.

How will I be charged for 3G?

Operators will charge based on either time or the amount of data transferred. For time-based charges, you can access the internet and download or upload as much as you want within a time period. They also have monthly plans for unlimited time and usage. This plan is suitable for moderate to heavy data use.

Data charges tally the amount of data transferred, usually in kilobytes, without a time limit. When you browse the internet and the websites you visit have a lot of graphics or pictures, you'll be charged more because more data has to be loaded. You will also be charged each time the phone tries to check emails, which is usually an automatic setting for most smartphones. Be warned that data may be transferred without your knowledge if you leave the settings of your email or other apps to update content by themselves. This model is more economical for light data users.

Like voice calls, mobile operators also offer two types of internet or data services: prepaid and postpaid. They even offer packages for data use by the day or for specific apps, such as social networks like Facebook or chat apps like WhatsApp and LINE. Data plans can also have limits on maximum speeds depending on your needs.