In march this year licenses to operate third generation(3G) mobile phone networks were given to 4 telecommunication companies by Nigerian Communication Commission(NCC). These companies are expected to pay $150 million each for the licence. These companies are expected to start 3G deployment this year.
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Going by developments worldwide, the 3G standard that will be deployed in Nigeria will be the Universal Mobile Telecommunication System(UMTS). This is because UMTS has been shown to interoperate well with GSM/GPRS/EDGE networks. Infact the GSM/EDGE Radio Access Network(GERAN) and the UMTS Radio Access Network(UTRAN) are both recognized by the International Telecommunication Union(ITU) as part of the UMTS 3G standard.
The ITU started the process of 3G standardization. The 3G standard is known as the IMT-2000.
The European Telecommunication Standard Institute(ETSI) was responsible for UMTS standardization process until in 1998 when this task was handed over to the 3G Partnership Group(3GPP).
The 3GPP has five main UMTS standardization areas. They are UTRAN, UMTS core network, UMTS terminals, GERAN and UMTS services.
UTRAN provides radio access to core network interfaces. It ensures that the UMTS terminals are connected to the UMTS core network. The core network in its own part is respossible for switching, routing and transport of user traffic, databases, and network management functions. The terminal is the 3G handset. The GERAN provides radio access for GSM/GPRS/EDGE phones to the 2G or/and 3G core networks. This means that GERAN ensures that GSM subscribers who have not yet upgraded to 3G can still be serviced by the 3G network operator.
UMTS services includes teleservices ( like speech and SMS ) and bearer services which provide the network with capability to carry traffic accross the radio interface. Bearers support voice traffic, streaming video traffic, HTML based packet data traffic, etc.
The roll out of UMTS networks in Nigeria will enable the 3G networks provide better quaity voice, high quality video telephony, video gaming, video on demand, webcast, web browsing, network gaming, database access, e-mail, SMS,MMS, and download services.
Another advantage for 3G operators is that UMTS offers higher data rates. The data rate varies from 144kbits/s in satelite and rural coverage, 384kbits/s in urban environment to up to 2Mbits/s in indoor and low range coverage.
UMTS provides the 3G operator with capability to provide the same services as fixed internet with simplified implementation.
For the subscriber, UMTS offers very high quality voice services and access to services similar to those of fixed networks(land lines).
The UMTS offers the subscriber a Virtual Home Environment (VHE). The VHE enables the UMTS subscriber to have thesame user interface irrespective of the mobile terminal.
In addition the Number Portability DataBase (NPDB) which is part of the UMTS core network will enable the UMTS subscriber to change network while retaining their old number.
However, with the numerous challenges currently facing mobile phone network operators in Nigeria, one wonders whether they are up to the task of offering Nigerians high quality 3G services at the right price. We expect them to follow the GSM evolution path to 3G.