A quick guide to EDGE

What is it?
Standing for the mouthful that is Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution, it's a way for operators to almost cheat and get nearly 3G speeds to your phone. This is all without your mobile needing to be of 3G in nature or even on a network of that origin. EDGE is a step up from the very basic GSM/GPRS network and falls in-between that and 3G.

For this single reason alone it's often referred to as 2.75G. Most operators in Blighty do offer this up to their customers, but you might not be able to get this coverage everywhere and unfortunately not on every phone. It primarily provides faster web surfing speeds for your mobile, up to three times that of GPRS speeds.

Boiling it down to the numbers, EDGE can offer you 236kbps downstream at its maximum. GPRS is only 53.6kbps and 3G comes in at 384kbps and HSDPA is on 1.8Mbps.

What are the variations of the technology?
EDGE, like HSDPA, is all about the download. Unlike HSDPA, it doesn't have an upload variant as in HSUPA - it's just known as EDGE, okay?

There really aren't a great deal of variants in the technology and as such, this makes its foundation solid, dependable and resilient since it was first rolled out in 2003.

Why should I care?
For those that do not have access to lightning 3G speeds or HSPDA, EDGE still acts as a good trade-off. Simply, it is a good, fast service.

You will still have fast access to the likes of Google searching, watching video, MMS and the fairly data intensive likes of Google maps. So there is no need to feel you're falling behind the Joneses.

With web browsers for your phone such as Opera Mini, you'll be hard pushed to find a real solid difference over time between EDGE and the higher services. Also there's a benefit for operators, as it's really just a bolt on to the GSM network. Which means countries that do not have 3G rolled out can still offer fast downloading whilst you're away travelling or on holiday.

What's a good example in practice?
Unbeknownst to some, you might have already been using EDGE on your mobile. If you're running Windows Mobile 6.1 an 'E' logo might have appeared whenever you've pulled data down. This can be seen on a range of handsets to date, with the HTC Diamond and Touch HD for an example. Whereas a 'G' indicates GPRS is in use/available, '3G' for UMTS and 'H' for HSDPA services.

More often than not, your phone will seamlessly switch between GPRS, EDGE, 3G and HSDPA on current handsets. This all depends on its coverage in the area you are in and also the mobile phone you are using.

Giving you an idea of the three fold increase from GPRS to EDGE, a 4MB file would have taken 10 minutes on the former technology to download and just 3 minutes and 20 seconds on the latter.

Is there a competing technology that I should be aware of?
In terms of technology that's in the field of competition there are always the superseding faster downstream speeds. The obvious ones are 3G/UMTS and HSDPA, but let's not forget Wi-Fi hotspots. It's more common to see handsets around these days with Wi-Fi onboard than not. The latter of which isn't as prevalent as the others, but still can top them all with 802.11b on 4.5 Mbps and 80.11g at 19Mbps.

What is in store for the future?
The key factor in the evolution of EDGE, as we've already said, is that it's ideal for countries that do not have 3G technology in place. The Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) reported in May this year there are 313 EDGE networks in 147 countries, from a possible total of 363 mobile network operators in 165 countries.

In saying that there is still another upgrade path, known as EDGE Evolution. By tweaking certain parameters at the network end, they're able to push the download speeds to a mighty peak of 1Mbps. With the common place use being that of a 500kbps ADSL service. Although no operators have taken part in this upgrade yet, it's still on the cards.

This still won't be as fast as the others that came after EDGE, but it comes close without any major network upgrade or a handset change.

The clear ceiling to maximum download speeds is of course Wi-Fi. There's recently been a new addition to the standard seen in 80.211r. Where the 'r' stands for roaming, enabling drifting between Wi-Fi routers with no connections being lost. Imagine a day with Wi-Fi flooded everywhere and VoIP calls not being dropped as you move along the street. That is what 802.11r is all about and what they are aiming for.