Mobile Phone Glossary

From 3G to WiMAX: A “Handy” Glossary

In Europe and many other parts of the world, the GSM mobile phone standard is used, rather than the CDMA system found in Canada and the United States (where GSM is also used). GSM is the only standard used in Europe, so people from North America who travel to Europe need a GSM-compatible cell phone. We discuss the details of traveling with a cell phone in our Cell Phone Guide and The iPhone in Germany. Also see this GW Expat Blog post: Cell Phone Tips for International Travelers and Road Warriors. The glossary below will help you understand the many terms connected with wireless phones and the GSM mobile phone standard.

German Vodafone store

A Vodafone mobile phone store in Germany. PHOTO © Hyde Flippo

0G, 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G | The various generations of mobile phone technology that have evolved since the first analog generation (1G) and the early days of cell phones. (0G, zero G, refers to radio telephones, prior to the first cell phone.) The first commercially available 1G mobile phone was the analog Motorola DynaTAC 8000X (the “brick phone”) in 1984. 2G refers to the first digital mobile phones. See more about phone generations below.

2G, 3G | Terms referring to the second and third generations of digital wireless phone technology. While 2G is still in use in many places, 3G is an updated GSM system that allows high-speed data transfers as well as voice communications. The US firm Qualcomm and the Swedish Ericsson had a long legal squabble over 3G technical standards and alleged patent infringements starting in 1996. See “4G” below, GSM and UMTS.

3GPP | 3rd Generation Partnership Project, a collaboration between groups of telecommunications associations that sets 3G mobile phone system specifications, including HSPA and LTE (see below).

4G | The generation after 3G. Technically the term 4G refers to the IMT Advanced (International Mobile Telecommunications Advanced) standard, as defined by the ITU Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R). A 4G cellular system has peak data rates of up to about 100 Mbit/s for high mobility (mobile access), and up to approximately 1 Gbit/s for low mobility (local wireless access). Flexible channel bandwidth (between 5 and 20 MHz and up to 40 MHz) is also part of the 4G standard. Some true 4G cellular networks first went into service in Stockholm and Oslo in December 2009. Later Sprint began advertising 4G service in selected US cities, despite maximum download speeds (10Mbit/s) that were not true 4G. Also see LTE below.

Akku | German for “rechargeable battery” (accumulator)

AMPS | Advanced Mobile Phone System – This analog cell-phone system developed by Bell Labs was the first to be used in the US and Canada (in the mid-1980s). In the early 1990s it was replaced by D-AMPS, a digital system that has since been replaced by digital CDMA and GMS cell-phone systems.

Bluetooth | A proprietary open wireless technology standard for exchanging data over short distances (using short wavelength radio transmissions) from fixed and mobile devices. Bluetooth is managed by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group.

CDMA | Code Division Multiple Access – A digital cellular standard used primarily in North America and parts of Asia. CDMA is a digital technology developed and supported by the US company Qualcomm. Most iPhone models use both CDMA and GSM technology, making the iPhone a world phone. Also see GSM and TDMA.

C-Netz | An older German analog mobile phone network that was limited almost exclusively to car phones. This system was retired at the end of 2000.

D-Netz | Digital network used by the two competing companies T-Mobile (Deutsche Telekom, D1-Netz) and Vodafone (D2-Netz) in Germany.

dual-band/tri-band/quad-band phones | To cope with various systems operating at different frequencies (or even analog vs. digital systems) around the globe, phone makers have developed dual-band or multiband phones that can automatically switch among the various bands or systems. Some newer smartphones now will work on up to 20 different bands or frequencies.

dual SIM adapter | A special third-party adapter that turns a normal unlocked GSM Android phone or iPhone into a dual SIM-card device (see below). See this GW Expat Blog post for more.

dual SIM-card phones | Some newer GSM Android smartphones allow the simultaneous use of two different SIM cards (with two different numbers). These phones have two SIM card slots. This feature is attractive to business users and international travelers who don’t want to carry two different phones. Offering various data and talk options, dual-SIM-slot handsets are available from Motorola, Acer, Alcatel, and Samsung (Duos). The unlocked cost ranges from about $60 to $300 from online sellers. So far there are no dual-SIM iPhone models, but there are third-party dual SIM-card adapters for the iPhone. Unlocked global GSM phones will not work with CDMA carriers such as Sprint, Verizon, Boost or Virgin in the US. They will only work with AT&T or T-Mobile in the US.

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EDGE | Enhanced Data rates for Global Evolution (or GSM Evolution) – A 2.5G high-speed digital data service provided by cellular carriers worldwide that use the GSM technology, including AT&T and T-Mobile in the US. Also called Enhanced GPRS (EGPRS), EDGE works on EDGE cell phones as well as laptops and portable devices that have EDGE modems. EDGE is not as fast as the newer UMTS/3G (see below).

E-Netz | A German digital mobile phone network started in 1994. This high density system allows cell phones to function at a low wattage of from .25 to one watt of power. The first provider to use the E-Netz was E-Plus.

frequency | For cellular use, usually measured in megahertz (MHz). Often a single system (GSM, PCS, etc.) may operate at different frequencies. Germany’s D-Netz (D1 and D2) is in the 900 MHz band, while the E-Netz operates at 1800 MHz. In North America there are PCS networks operating at 800 MHz and 1900 MHz. See “dual-band phones.” Note: the term “hertz” (cycles per second) is named for German scientist Heinrich Rudolf Hertz (1857-1894).

GPRS | General Packet Radio Service – The first high-speed digital data service provided by cellular carriers that used the GSM technology. GPRS added a packet-switched channel to GSM, which uses dedicated, circuit-switched channels for voice conversations. It was replaced by EDGE, and improved version of the technology. UMTS is the 3G and fastest high-speed data service.

GSM | Global System for Mobile communications (originally Groupe Spécial Mobile), a digital cellular system found in almost all of Europe, parts of Asia, and parts of North America. GSM is a system developed by the Swedish firm Ericsson, one of the world’s largest makers of wireless phones. AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM in North America (but on different frequencies than European GSM). The latest iPhones have both CDMA and GSM technology, making them “world phones.” Also see CDMA and TDMA

das Handy | German for a mobile phone or cell phone. The plural is die Handys.

HSPAHSPA+ | High-Speed Packet Access and Evolved High-Speed Packet Access. HSPA+ provides download data rates of up to 84 Megabits per second (Mbit/s). It succeeded UMTS.

IMEI | The International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) is a number assigned to each and every GSM mobile phone in order to electronically identify that particular device. On the iPhone it can be found under Settings > General > About. On some phones it can also be displayed on the screen of the phone by entering *#06# on the keypad. The IMEI number is required in order to unlock or activate a smart phone. The IMEI is only for the device; the subscriber is identified by a so-called IMSI number (International Mobile Subscriber Identity) stored on the SIM card. In the UK and some other countries, the IMEI is also used by the police to deactivate a stolen mobile phone. The CDMA Mobile Equipment Identifier (MEID) is basically the same as the IMEI.

Iridium | A world-wide satellite telephone system that uses low-orbit satellites to provide universal global communications coverage. Iridium’s original high cost and poor service almost led to the company’s collapse in 1999. A reorganized Iridium now offers very competitive rates and smaller phones. Other satellite phone services include Globalstar and ICO/Ellipse.

locked/unlocked | Mobile phones sold by most carriers are electronically “locked” to that carrier to prevent the user from leaving before paying off the subsidized cost of the phone (the “unlocked” cost). Each carrier has its own procedure for unlocking a user’s phone, but any contract must be fulfilled before that is allowed. Phones also can be bought unlocked, but the unlocked cost for a typical smartphone in the US runs between $500 and $900, depending on the model and brand. An unlocked mobile phone can be used with any compatible SIM card for use with more than one carrier. Many US carriers are moving away from subsidized, contract phones.

LTE | Long Term Evolution, a technology developed by the 3GPP intended to offer higher speeds than 3G. Although LTE is often marketed as “4G,” it is not truly 4G, as defined by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). LTE is supposed to offer mobile download speeds of up to 100 Mbps. Pre-4G technologies such as mobile WiMAX and first-release 3G LTE have been on the market since 2006 and 2009 (LTE). A cell phone must have a SIM card in order to function with LTE. The top five wireless providers in the US have standardized on 4G LTE as their speediest wireless communication standard. LTE has been deployed in most North American major population areas. Also see 4G above.

MbpsMbit/s | Megabits per second. A common measurement of data transfer speed. CDMA networks max out at 3.6 Mbps, which is why Verizon and other CDMA carriers have moved to the faster LTE standard for data.

MHz | Megahertz, 1 million cycles per second (Also see “frequency” above.)

MIMO | Multiple-input and multiple-output. MIMO (pronounced mye-moh or mee-moh) is a type of smart antenna technology with multiple antennas for both the transmitter and receiver in a device. MIMO is an important part of modern wireless communication standards such as WiFi, 4G, LTE, WiMAX and HSPA+.

PCS / PDC | Personal Communications Service – A digital mobile phone system begun in the US in 1996 and increasingly used in North America and Europe. Most PCS networks (similar to GSM) use radio spectrum in the 1.8-2GHz range.

responsive | A “responsive” website uses coding techniques that make pages display equally well on smartphones, portable devices, laptops, and a normal computer screen. In some cases a site will offer special “m” (mobile) pages specially designed to display well on mobile phone screens.

satellite mobile phones | Several worldwide satellite telephone systems use low-orbiting or geostationary satellites to provide global or partial global coverage in places that have no other wireless phone service (60 percent of the globe). These sat phone services include Iridium, Globalstar and ICO/Ellipse.

SIM | Subscriber Identity Module – A smartcard technology used exclusively with GSM-based networks and with CDMA phones that are LTE-capable. Using an interchangeable micro-sized chip card, a GSM phone can be programmed to work with more than one phone number and more than one operator. (The iPhone uses a nano-SIM card that is much smaller than a regular SIM card.) Using a pre-paid German SIM card (with an unlocked phone) can save you lots of money compared to roaming while traveling in Germany. There are also some dual-SIM-card mobile phone models, as well as dual-SIM adapters. See dual SIM card above and this GW Expat Blog post for more.

TDMA | Time Division Multiple Access – One of two digital cellular standards once used primarily in North America. Today TDMA has given way to more advanced versions of CDMA and GSM. (Later versions of GSM actually use a form of TDMA technology.) Also see GSM and CDMA

UMTS | United Mobile Telecommunication System – A broadband cell phone system that went into service in 2002. It was designed to allow much faster data transmission speeds than previous digital wireless services. UMTS is the GSM implementation of the 3G wireless phone system and provides service in the 2GHz band. It is being succeeded by the faster HSPA+ technology. Also see 3G HSPA+ and GSM.

WAP | Wireless Access Protocol is an older technology that allows cell phones to display specially formatted Web sites on a small screen. WAP was slow to catch on because it was slow and very limited graphically. For these reasons, only some Web sites are available in WAP format. New smartphones, the iPad, and the iPhone probably spell the end of WAP, as does the increasing use of “responsive” websites that display well on portable devices.

WEP | Wired Equivalent Privacy is a 128-bit or 40-bit encription code for network security.

Wi-Fi | A trademark of the Wi-Fi Alliance, a trade association that promotes Wireless LAN (W-LAN, a wireless local network). In German, the term W-LAN or Wlan is used for Wi-Fi. The current Wi-Fi certified standards include 802.11a, 802.11b, 802.11g, and 802.11n draft 2.0. In October 2010, the Alliance launched a new spec called Wi-Fi Direct that allows Wi-Fi-enabled devices to communicate directly with each other. In Spanish, French and other Romance languages, Wi-Fi is pronunced wee-fee.

WiMAX | Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access. WiMAX is a telecommunications protocol that provides fixed and mobile Internet access. The current WiMAX revision provides up to 40 Mbit/s data speeds. The IEEE 802.16m update may offer up to 1 Gbit/s fixed speeds. WiMAX is similar to Wi-Fi, but has been dubbed by some as “Wi-Fi on steroids.” The WiMAX standard is supervised by the WiMAX Forum.

WPA | Wi-Fi Protected Access is a common type of passsword security for a home or business wireless network (LAN). It was succeeded by the more secure WPA2 standard.

More | Cell Phone Guide

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