UMTS stands for Universal Mobile Telecommunications System, one of the mobile phone technologies known as third-generation, or 3G. Third-generation systems are designed to include such traditional phone tasks as calls, voice mail, and paging, but also new technology tasks such as Internet access, video, and SMS, or text messaging.
One of the main benefits of UMTS is its speed. Rates of transfer for broadband information are 2 Mbits a second. This speed makes possible the kind of streaming video that can support movie downloads and video conferencing. In a sense, UMTS makes it possible for users to enjoy all of the functionality of a home computer while on the go. By combining wireless and satellite cellular technologies, it takes advantage of all existing options to result in the Holy Grail of 3G presentation: seamless transitions between WiFi and satellite.
UMTS went live as a network for the first time in Japan in 2001. Austria had its own network two years later. A handful of other European countries joined the bandwagon in the next two years, with South Africa and a few other African countries soon following suit. The U.S. has employed UMTS networks in several large cities, and the number is steadily growing.
This technology is based on the Global System for Mobile (GSM) standard, which is the gold standard in Europe and more than 120 countries worldwide. In fact, UMTS is sometimes referred to as 3GSM. The two systems are not compatible, however. Some phones are dual GSM/UMTS phones, but unless a new mobile phone or handset has that kind of duality built in, users will only be able to utilize one mode, the one that came with the device.
As UMTS gains in credibility and functionality, experts believe it will overtake GSM as the industry standard. It is already able to operate at a higher frequency than GSM.