The Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) and Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE) are competing mobile communication technologies. These are both third generation (3G) communication technologies with new features and capabilities that advance the options for cell phones, particularly those that use Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM). Generally, these systems differ mainly in speed and the way that users access the networks that transmit radio signals.
Typically, the maximum data rate for EDGE is 236 kilobits per second (kbps). UMTS has various flavors that depend on the hardware infrastructure and user devices. It has maximum data transmission rates that top 3.6 megabits per second, with older systems transferring data at 384 kbps. These speed differences are not as noticeable on voice calls as they are on laptops and Web-enabled cell phones.
The underlying technology for EDGE networks is Time Division Multiple Access transmission. General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) is a recent enhancement to EDGE that expands its capability for handling multimedia at higher speeds. UMTS deployment relies on the more secure Wideband Code Division Multiple Access transmission for handling data transmission traffic. EDGE networks are capable of decent speeds for text and graphics. UMTS networks use High Speed Packet Access at transmission rates that support large file transfers and mobile data-intensive Internet activities like video and music streaming.
Mobile communications carriers employ various radio frequencies, based on the technology and region of the world. Although the International Telecommunications Union has set 800, 900, 1800 and 1900 as the standard GSM frequencies worldwide, UMTS networks in the United States (US) can use 5 MHz bands within these GSM bands. The majority of UMTS carriers operate on the 1700 and 2100 MHz radio frequencies, while EDGE uses the normal GSM quad-band frequencies.
The rapid evolution of UMTS has made it the more dominant of the two technologies. It is fully compatible with GSM – the world's most widely used mobile communication technology. Most UMTS handsets currently on the market are dual-band devices that can seamlessly switch to the GPRS system for data transmission.
Normally when consumers and businesses select a carrier for cell phone calls and mobile Web access, they do not ask which technology the company uses. This significant oversight can result in customer dissatisfaction because national and international 3G coverage and data speeds vary greatly. It is not uncommon for mobile communications carriers to use a hybrid 3G network, providing the faster UMTS service in major metropolitan areas, while providing slower EDGE networks to customers in less populated areas.