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About Wireless Carrier Networks
This Mobilook guide helps cell phone users buy the right calling plan and cell phone handset by explaining in simple terms how wireless cellular phone networks work. It provides a summary of the leading wireless network standards.
A cellular phone network uses a number of short-range radio transmitter-receivers to communicate simultaneously with many mobile phones and devices over a large area.
Wireless carriers build and operate the telecommunications networks that carry the radio signals and provide mobile phone service.
A network carrier may lease their network capacity to other service providers. Hence, a wireless service provider is not necessarily a network owner or operator. To understand the mobile service you are buying, ask your wireless service provider who owns their network and who is responsible for its operation (coverage, reliability, expansion, construction, etc.).
Commercial wireless networks have evolved over the past twenty years by developing advanced technologies and providing ever more sophisticated features for mobile users.
The most common type of wireless network is a cellular network. Cellular technology is the leading telecommunications technology because of its high capacity, flexible deployment and cost-effectiveness.
Wireless network carriers use a system of areas or "cells" that are served by radio communications for handling the connections of all the phone calls of their customers. The signal footprint of each radio antenna defines the location and size of its cell.
As the mobile phone moves, the call is dropped by the cell being exited and simultaneously picked up by the cell being entered. This switching takes place automatically and is transparent to the user. The radio cells range in size from 100 yards (100 meters) in busy downtown corridors to several miles (10 kilometers) in rural areas.
The antennas can be mounted on freestanding towers, poles, rooftops, lamp posts, trees or flagpoles. Antennas are often integrated (hidden) into the design of the buildings and surroundings.
The size of a cell area also depends on the local terrain. Radio signals can be blocked by trees, buildings, hills and valleys, so base stations may have to be located closer together.
If the location of a phone is not served by a wireless carrier or if the radio cell serving that area is operating at capacity, a phone call cannot be started or received by that phone. If a mobile phone enters such a cell during a call, the call will be dropped.
If a mobile phone exits a radio cell served by their wireless carrier and enters a cell served by another wireless carrier, the call may be continued if the phone subscriber and first carrier have a "roaming" agreement with the second carrier.
A consumer needs two things to use a mobile phone: a handset (or mobile communications device) and a phone service plan from a wireless network carrier or service provider. The handset manufacturers and wireless carriers work together to provide retail mobile phone service.
Most mobile phone handsets are "locked" to their service provider. If you are unhappy with your service provider and want to switch to another service provider then you will need to purchase a new phone.
3. Network Modes
Network mode refers to the type of radio wave used for telecommunications and how it is electronically "engineered" to provide specific performance.
There are two types of wireless networks used for commercial telecommunications (cellular phones): digital and analog networks.
Analog networks use analog radio signals. The data is encoded in a wave of continuously varying size. It is older technology but has more coverage, especially in rural areas. The most common type of analog network is called AMPS (TACS in Europe). Most analog networks are or will be phased out in most regions.
Digital networks use digital radio signals. The data is encoded in a wave in discrete values (zeros or ones). It is more modern, powerful and energy-efficient than analog. The advantages of digital radio are range, clarity, reliability, and low power consumption (for transceivers and handsets). Common types of digital networks are CDMA, TDMA and GSM.
Dual-mode phones use both the digital and analog networks as available. Dual-mode can also mean uses Wi-Fi to access the Internet directly. Tri-mode phones use digital networks in two digital frequency bands and the analog network.
Wireless networks operate at specific radio signal frequencies, such as GSM at 900, 1,800 and 1,900 MHz.
Handsets are designed to work with one or more network modes and frequencies. They cannot access incompatible networks.
Dual-band phones operate within the Americas. Tri- and quad-band phones, also called world phones, function on three or four bands and operate in countries around the world.
GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) is a packet-linked technology that enables high-speed wireless Internet and other data communications. GPRS provides more than four times greater speed than conventional GSM systems. Using a packet data service, subscribers are always connected and always on line so services will be easy and quick to access.
The term "3G" refers to the "third generation" of wireless telecommunications network technology.
Summary of wireless network technology "generations":
Kbps (Kilobits per second) – Rate of transfer of digital data.
The acronyms wireless telecommunication technologies and standards can be overwhelming. But understanding the basic concepts can help you to buy the right phone. Don't worry about the details unless you care about the technology.
Quick summary of the most important wireless standards:
The wide area wireless industry is divided into three major technology groups: GSM, CDMA2000 and WiMax. GSM and CDMA span 2G to 4G. WiMax spans 3G to 4G.
Key wireless (radio signal) technologies used by mobile phones, pagers and wireless computers:
MHz (Megahertz) – Frequency of vibration of the radio signal.
GHz (Gigahertz) – Frequency of vibration of the radio signal. Equals 1,000 MHz.
Kbps (Kilo bits per second) – Rate of transfer of digital data.
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