Understanding 3G Protocols: WCDMA, UMTS, HSDPA, HSPA, HSPA+

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3G (3rd generation mobile technology) uses wideband Code Division Multiple Access (WCDMA) to provide wireless internet to mobile users. The most basic 3G protocol is known as UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service).

We call UMTS the most basic 3G protocol, because a number of enhanced protocols that offer faster speeds have been developed from it. They include: HSDPA, HSPA, and HSPA+. These enhancements are backwards-compatible, so any device with an advanced or enhanced 3G protocol includes support for the lower protocols.

As an example, a device that supports HSPA, also supports HSDPA and UMTS.

Understanding 3G Protocols: WCDMA, UMTS, HSDPA, HSPA, HSPA+

What is 3G UMTS, and how fast is it?

UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service) is synonymous with 3G. This is the protocol that the earliest 3G phones supported, and it delivers data speeds of up to 2 Mbps for downloads.

What is 3G HSDPA, and how fast is it?

HSDPA (High Speed Download Packet Access) is an enhanced 3G network protocol that supports data speeds of up to 14.4 Mbps for downloads. It is also known as 3.5G.

What is HSUPA, and how fast is it?

HSUPA (High Speed Upload Packet Access) is a version of HSDPA but with only the uplink enhanced, so it delivers faster upload speeds. It increases upload data speeds up to 5.76 Mbps.

What is 3G HSPA, and how fast is it?

HSPA (High Speed Packet Access) is a 3G mobile network protocol that offers data speeds up to 21 Mbps for downloads. HSPA is also known as 3.75G.

What is 3G HSPA+, and how fast is it?

HSPA+ (High Speed Packet Access Plus, also called Evolved HSPA) is a further evolution of HSPA. It is the fastest 3G protocol, supporting data rates of 42, 84 and sometimes 168 Mbps for downloads and up to 22 Mbps for uploads. HSPA+ is also commonly called 3.9G, and some wireless carriers and networks have marketed it, falsely, as 4G.

4G (4th generation of mobile technology) is a totally different mobile wireless standard from 3G. It uses the LTE (long-term evolution) protocol. It delivers much faster speeds than 3G networks, as fast as 100 Mbps for downloads.

Related: Can you convert a 3G phone to 4G?

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By Mister Mobility

I have been tech blogging since 2003, I have owned and reviewed hundreds of smartphones since my first in 2001.

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