Universal Mobile Telecommunications System

Universal Mobile Telecommunications System

Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) is one of the third-generation (3G) cell phone technologies, which is also being developed into a 4G technology. Currently, the most common form of UMTS uses W-CDMA as the underlying air interface. It is standardized by the 3GPP, and is the European answer to the ITU IMT-2000 requirements for 3G cellular radio systems.

To differentiate UMTS from competing network technologies, UMTS is sometimes marketed as 3GSM, emphasizing the combination of the 3G nature of the technology and the GSM standard which it was designed to succeed.


This article discusses the technology, business, usage and other aspects encompassing and surrounding UMTS, the 3G successor to GSM which utilizes the W-CDMA air interface and GSM infrastructures. Any issues relating strictly to the W-CDMA interface itself may be better described in the W-CDMA page.


UMTS, using W-CDMA, supports up to 14.0 Mbit/s data transfer rates in theory (with HSDPA), although at the moment users in deployed networks can expect a transfer rate of up to 384 kbit/s for R99 handsets, and 7.2 Mbit/s for HSDPA handsets in the downlink connection. This is still much greater than the 9.6 kbit/s of a single GSM error-corrected circuit switched data channel or multiple 9.6 kbit/s channels in HSCSD (14.4 kbit/s for CDMAOne), and—in competition to other network technologies such as CDMA2000, PHS or WLAN—offers access to the World Wide Web and other data services on mobile devices.

Precursors to 3G are 2G mobile telephony systems, such as GSM, IS-95, PDC, PHS and other 2G technologies deployed in different countries. In the case of GSM, there is an evolution path from 2G, to GPRS, also known as 2.5G. GPRS supports a much better data rate (up to a theoretical maximum of 140.8 kbit/s, though typical rates are closer to 56 kbit/s) and is packet switched rather than connection orientated (circuit switched). It is deployed in many places where GSM is used. E-GPRS, or EDGE, is a further evolution of GPRS and is based on more modern coding schemes. With EDGE the actual packet data rates can reach around 180 kbit/s (effective). EDGE systems are often referred as "2.75G Systems".

Since 2006, UMTS networks in many countries have been or are in the process of being upgraded with High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA), sometimes known as 3.5G. Currently, HSDPA enables downlink transfer speeds of up to 7.2 Mbit/s. Work is also progressing on improving the uplink transfer speed with the High-Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA). Longer term, the 3GPP Long Term Evolution project plans to move UMTS to 4G speeds of 100 Mbit/s down and 50 Mbit/s up, using a next generation air interface technology based upon Orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing.

The first national consumer UMTS networks launched in 2002 with a heavy emphasis on telco-provided mobile applications such as mobile TV and video calling. The high data speeds of UMTS are now most often utilised for Internet access: experience in Japan and elsewhere has shown that user demand for video calls is not high, and telco-provided audio/video content has declined in popularity in favour of high-speed access to the World Wide Web - either directly on a handset or connected to a computer via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Infrared or USB.


: "See also: List of Deployed UMTS networks"


UMTS combines the W-CDMA, TD-CDMA, or TD-SCDMA air interfaces, GSM's Mobile Application Part (MAP) core, and the GSM family of speech codecs. In the most popular cellular mobile telephone variant of UMTS, W-CDMA is currently used. Note that other wireless standards use W-CDMA as their air interface, including FOMA.

UMTS over W-CDMA uses a pair of 5 MHz channels. In contrast, the competing CDMA2000 system uses one or more arbitrary 1.25 MHz channels for each direction of communication. UMTS and other W-CDMA systems are widely criticized for their large spectrum usage, which has delayed deployment in countries that acted relatively slowly in allocating new frequencies specifically for 3G services (such as the United States).

The specific frequency bands originally defined by the UMTS standard are 1885–2025 MHz for the mobile-to-base (uplink) and 2110–2200 MHz for the base-to-mobile (downlink). In the US, 1710–1755 MHz and 2110–2155 MHz will be used instead, as the 1900 MHz band was already utilized. [The FCC's [http://wireless.fcc.gov/services/aws/data/awsbandplan.pdf Advanced Wireless Services bandplan] ] While UMTS2100 is the most widely-deployed UMTS band, some countries' UMTS operators use the 850 MHz and/or 1900 MHz bands (independently, meaning uplink and downlink are within the same band), notably in the US by AT&T Mobility, and in Australia by Telstra (850 MHz only).

For existing GSM operators, it is a simple but costly migration path to UMTS: much of the infrastructure is shared with GSM, but the cost of obtaining new spectrum licenses and overlaying UMTS at existing towers is high.

UMTS is an alternative Radio Access Network (RAN) to GERAN (which is the 2G GSM air interface including GSM/EDGE). UMTS and GERAN can share a Core Network (CN), allowing (mostly) transparent switching between the RANs according to available coverage and service needs. The CN can be connected to various backbone networks like the Internet, ISDN. UMTS (and GERAN) include the three lowest layers of OSI model. The network layer (OSI 3) includes the Radio Resource Management protocol (RRM) that manages the bearer channels between the mobile terminals and the fixed network, including the handovers.

UMTS 3G Handsets and Modems

All of the major 2G phone manufacturers (that are still in business) are now manufacturers of 3G phones. The early 3G handsets and modems were specific to the frequencies required in their country, which meant they could only roam to other countries on the same 3G frequency (though they can fall back to the older GSM standard). Canada and USA have a common share of frequencies, as do most European countries. The article UMTS frequency bands is an overview of UMTS network frequencies around the world.

There are almost no 3G phones or modems available supporting all 3G frequencies (UMTS850/900/1700/1900/2100MHz). Some modems like the Huawei E270 meet this specification [ cite web | title = Huawei E270 GSM/UMTS modem specifications | url=http://www.huawei.com/mobileweb/en/products/view.do?id=381 | accessdate = 2008-06-08 ] , however many phones are offering more than one band which still enables extensive roaming. For example, a tri-band chipset operating on 850/1900/2100MHz, such as that found in Apple's iPhone, allows usage in the majority of countries where UMTS is deployed.

PDA and Smartphones

* Symbian Based: with 65% of the market. Nokia and Sony Ericsson are the major SymbianOS users. There is a lot of SymbianOS software available but often only applicable to specific phones. Tethering is available using USB, bluetooth or Wifi (with [http://www.joikuspot.com/ JoikuSpot] : Convert your Symbian Phone into a router). [^ http://network.nationalpost.com/np/blogs/tradingdesk/archive/2008/04/30/what-to-expect-from-rogers-iphone-offering.aspx]

* Windows Mobile Based: with 12% of the current market. Windows Mobile 6.1 offers a range of features for UMTS. Tethering is available using USB, bluetooth, or Wifi (with [http://www.wmwifirouter.com WMWifiRouter] : convert your Windows Mobile unit into a router) [^ http://www.canalys.com/pr/2008/r2008021.htm.] Windows Mobile is used by many manufacturers including Sony, Samsung, Palm, Motorola, and several manufacturers familiar with the PC market.

* RIM OS Based: with 11% of the market (mostly in the USA). Most BlackBerry smartphones are not currently 3G capable, with the exception of certain models such as model 8707v, EVDO capable models and the upcoming BlackBerry 9000 series. One reason is that BlackBerry, typically known for long battery life, would have shorter battery life with 3G. The emergence of greatly improved multimedia and tethering capabilities on recent BlackBerry models, is currently pressuring RIM to include 3G in future BlackBerry models.

* Mac OS X-like iPhone OS Based: with 7% of the market (and growing quickly). Apple's first generation iPhone did not support 3G and is restricted to using the EDGE standard. Apple stated this was to maintain a reasonable battery life on the telephone. As power consumption of 3G chipsets improved, Apple released a UMTS (3G) iPhone on July 11, 2008.

* Palm OS (also known as "Garnet OS") was initially developed by Palm Computing, Inc. for personal digital assistants (PDAs) in 1996 and was later also used on some mobile phones. It is provided with a suite of basic applications for personal information management. Palm OS has been used in Sony Clié handsets (Sony now uses Windows Mobile & Symbian) and by Samsung (which now use Windows Mobile).

* Android is a software platform and operating system for mobile devices based on the Linux operating system and developed by Google and the Open Handset Alliance.cite web |url=http://www.openhandsetalliance.com/press_110507.html |title=Industry Leaders Announce Open Platform for Mobile Devices |accessdate=2007-11-05 |date=2007-11-05 |format=HTML |work= |publisher=Open Handset Alliance ] It allows developers to write managed code in a Java-like language that utilizes Google-developed Java libraries, [cite web |url=http://www.news.com/8301-13580_3-9815495-39.html | title=Google's Android parts ways with Java industry group] but does not support programs developed in native code. When released in 2008, most of the Android platform will be made available under the Apache free-software and open-source license.cite web |url=http://www.openhandsetalliance.com/press_111207.html |title=Open Handset Alliance Releases Android SDK |accessdate=2007-11-12 |date=2007-11-12 |format=HTML |publisher=Open Handset Alliance ] The first phone to use the Android platform will be the HTC Dream.

External Modems

Using a cellular router, PCMCIA or USB card, customers are able to access 3G broadband services, regardless of their choice of computer (such as a tablet PC or a PDA). Some software installs itself from the modem, so that in some cases absolutely no knowledge of technology is required to get online in moments.

Using a phone that supports 3G and Bluetooth 2.0, multiple Bluetooth-capable laptops can be connected to the Internet. The phone acts as gateway and router, but via Bluetooth rather than wireless networking (802.11) or a USB connection.

Interoperability and global roaming

UMTS phones (and data cards) are highly portable—they have been designed to roam easily onto other UMTS networks (assuming your provider has a roaming agreement). In addition, almost all UMTS phones (except in Japan) are UMTS/GSM dual-mode devices, so if a UMTS phone travels outside of UMTS coverage during a call the call may be transparently handed off to available GSM coverage. Roaming charges are usually significantly higher than regular usage charges.

Most UMTS licensees consider ubiquitous, transparent global roaming an important issue. To enable a high degree of interoperability, UMTS phones usually support several different frequencies in addition to their GSM fallback. Different countries support different UMTS frequency bands – Europe initially used 2100MHz while the most carriers in the USA use 850Mhz and 1900Mhz. T-mobile has plans to launch their upcoming network at 1700Mhz. A UMTS phone and network must support a common frequency to work together. Because of the frequencies used, early models of UMTS phones designated for the United States will likely not be operable elsewhere and vice versa. There are now 11 different frequency combinations used around the world—including frequencies formerly used solely for 2G services.

UMTS phones can use a USIM (Universal Subscriber Identity Module) (based on GSM's SIM) and also work (including UMTS services) with GSM SIM cards. This is a global standard of identification, and enables a network to identify and authenticate the phone user (actually only the (U)SIM, not the user is authenticated). Roaming agreements between networks allow for calls to a customer to be redirected to them while roaming and determine the services (and prices) available to the user. In addition to user subscriber information and authentication information, the (U)SIM provides storage space for phone book contact. Handsets can store their data on their own memory or on the (U)SIM card (which is usually more limited in its phone book contact information). A (U)SIM can be moved to another UMTS or GSM phone, and the phone will take on the user details of the (U)SIM, meaning it is the (U)SIM (not the phone) which determines the phone number of the phone and the billing for calls made from the phone.

Japan was the first country to adopt 3G technologies, and since they had not used GSM previously they had no need to build GSM compatibility into their handsets and their 3G handsets were smaller than those available elsewhere. In 2002, NTT DoCoMo's FOMA 3G network was the first commercial W-CDMA network—it was initially incompatible with the UMTS standard at the radio level but used standard USIM cards, meaning USIM card based roaming was possible (transferring the USIM card into a UMTS or GSM phone when travelling). Both NTT and SoftBank Mobile (which launched 3G in December 2002) now use the standard UMTS, and their PDC 2G networks run in parallel.

pectrum allocation

Over 120 licenses have already been awarded to operators worldwide (as of December 2004), specifying W-CDMA radio access technology that builds on GSM. In Europe, the license process occurred at the tail end of the technology bubble, and the auction mechanisms for allocation set up in some countries resulted in some extremely high prices being paid for the original 2100 MHz licenses, notably in the UK and Germany. In Germany, bidders paid a total €50.8 billion for six licenses, two of which were subsequently abandoned and written off by their purchasers (Mobilcom and the Sonera/Telefonica consortium). It has been suggested that these huge license fees have the character of a very large tax paid on future income expected many years down the road. In any event, the high prices paid put some European telecom operators close to bankruptcy (most notably KPN). Over the last few years some operators have written off some or all of the license costs. More recently, a carrier in Finland has begun using 900 MHz UMTS in a shared arrangement with its surrounding 2G GSM base stations, a trend that is expected to expand over Europe in the next 1–3 years.

The 2100 MHz UMTS spectrum allocated in Europe is already used in North America. The 1900 MHz range is used for 2G (PCS) services, and 2100 MHz range is used for satellite communications. Regulators have, however, freed up some of the 2100 MHz range for 3G services, together with the 1700 MHz for the uplink. UMTS operators in North America who want to implement a European style 2100/1900 MHz system will have to share spectrum with existing 2G services in the 1900 MHz band.

AT&T Wireless launched UMTS services in the United States by the end of 2004 strictly using the existing 1900 MHz spectrum allocated for 2G PCS services. Cingular acquired AT&T Wireless in 2004 and has since then launched UMTS in select US cities. Cingular renamed itself AT&T and is rolling out some cities with a UMTS network at 850 MHz to enhance its existing UMTS network at 1900 MHz and now offers subscribers a number of UMTS 850/1900 phones.

T-Mobile's rollout of UMTS in the US will focus on the 2100/1700 MHz bands, whereas initial rollout of UMTS in Canada will also be undertaken using the 850 and 1900 MHz bands due to the large geographical areas where coverage is required.

In 2008, Australian telco Telstra replaced its existing CDMA network with a national 3G network, branded as NextG, operating in the 850 MHz band. Telstra currently provides UMTS service on this network, as well as through a roaming agreement on Hutchison 3G Australia's 2100 MHz UMTS network. Optus is currently rolling out a 3G network operating on the 2100 MHz band in cities and most large towns, and the 900 MHz band in regional areas. Vodafone is also building a 3G network using the 900 MHz band. The 850 MHz and 900 MHz bands provide greater coverage compared to equivalent 1700/1900/2100 MHz networks, and are best suited to regional areas where greater distances separate subscriber and base station.

Carriers in South America are now also rolling out 850 MHz networks.

Other competing standards

There are other competing 3G standards, such as CDMA2000 and TD-SCDMA, though UMTS can use the latter's air interface standard.

On the Internet access side, competing systems include WiMAX and Flash-OFDM. Different variants of UMTS compete with different standards. While this article has largely discussed UMTS-FDD, a form oriented for use in conventional cellular-type spectrum, UMTS-TDD, a system based upon a TD-CDMA air interface, is used to provide UMTS service where the uplink and downlink share the same spectrum, and is very efficient at providing asymmetric access. It provides more direct competition with WiMAX and similar Internet-access oriented systems than conventional UMTS.

Both the CDMA2000 and W-CDMA air interface systems are accepted by ITU as part of the IMT-2000 family of 3G standards, in addition to UMTS-TDD's TD-CDMA, Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE) and China's own 3G standard, TD-SCDMA.

CDMA2000's narrower bandwidth requirements make it easier than UMTS to deploy in existing spectrum along with legacy standards. In some, but not all, cases, existing GSM operators only have enough spectrum to implement either UMTS or GSM, not both. For example, in the US [http://wireless.fcc.gov/auctions/data/bandplans/pcsband.pdf D, E, and F PCS spectrum blocks] , the amount of spectrum available is 5 MHz in each direction. A standard UMTS system would saturate that spectrum.

In many markets however, the co-existence issue is of little relevance, as legislative hurdles exist to co-deploying two standards in the same licensed slice of spectrum.

Most GSM operators in North America as well as others around the world have accepted EDGE as a temporary 3G solution. AT&T Wireless launched EDGE nationwide in 2003, AT&T launched EDGE in most markets and T-Mobile USA has launched EDGE nationwide as of October 2005. Rogers Wireless launched nation-wide EDGE service in late 2003 for the Canadian market. Bitė Lietuva (Lithuania) was one of the first operators in Europe to launch EDGE in December 2003. TIM (Italy) launched EDGE in 2004. The benefit of EDGE is that it leverages existing GSM spectrums and is compatible with existing GSM handsets. It is also much easier, quicker, and considerably cheaper for wireless carriers to "bolt-on" EDGE functionality by upgrading their existing GSM transmission hardware to support EDGE than having to install almost all brand-new equipment to deliver UMTS. EDGE provides a short-term upgrade path for GSM operators and directly competes with CDMA2000.

Problems and issues

Some countries, including the United States and Japan, have allocated spectrum differently from the ITU recommendations, so that the standard bands most commonly used for UMTS (UMTS-2100) have not been available. In those countries, alternative bands are used, preventing the interoperability of existing UMTS-2100 equipment, and requiring the design and manufacture of different equipment for the use in these markets. As is the case with GSM900 today, standard UMTS 2100 MHz equipment will not work in those markets. However, it appears as though UMTS is not suffering as much from handset band compatibility issues as GSM did, as many UMTS handsets are multi-band in both UMTS and GSM modes. Quad-band GSM (850, 900, 1800, and 1900 MHz bands) and tri-band UMTS (850, 1900, and 2100 MHz bands) handsets are becoming more commonplace.

The early days of UMTS saw rollout hitches in many countries. Overweight handsets with poor battery life were first to arrive on a market highly sensitive to weight and form factor. The Motorola A830, a debut handset on Hutchison's 3 network, weighed more than 200 grams and even featured a detachable camera to reduce handset weight. Another significant issue involved call reliability, related to problems with handover from UMTS to GSM. Customers found their connections being dropped as handovers were possible only in one direction (UMTS → GSM), with the handset only changing back to UMTS after hanging up. In most networks around the world this is no longer an issue.

Compared to GSM, UMTS networks initially required a higher base station density. For fully-fledged UMTS incorporating video on demand features, one base station needed to be set up every 1–1.5 km (0.62–0.93 mi). This was the case when only the 2100 MHz band was being used, however with the growing use of lower-frequency bands (such as 850 and 900 MHz) this is no longer so. This has led to increasing rollout of the lower-band networks by operators since 2006.

Even with current technologies and low-band UMTS, telephony and data over UMTS is still more power intensive than on comparable GSM networks. Apple, Inc. cited [^http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118306134626851922.html] UMTS power consumption as the reason that the first generation iPhone only supported EDGE. Their release of the iPhone 3G quotes talk time on UMTS as half that available when the handset is set to use GSM. As battery and network technology improves, this issue is lessening in severity.

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