What is Tri-Band UMTS?

Angela Brady

Tri-band UMTS is a wireless communication technology that operates over three frequencies from the same device. European tri-band devices use the 900, 1800, and 1900 megahertz frequency bands, and North and South American devices support the 800 or 950, 1800, and 1900 megahertz frequencies. The capability to support multiple frequencies allow the device to work in almost any part of the world.

Tri-band technology can allow a cell phone to use towers belonging to any carrier.
Tri-band technology can allow a cell phone to use towers belonging to any carrier.

UMTS stands for Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service, and is a third-generation (3G) technology that transmits data in packets rather than through circuits like most second-generation (2G) technology. Since UMTS transmission is not dependent upon available circuits, a connection is always available to any endpoint in the world by using Internet Protocol. This seamless transmission enables users to stream data up to 21 megabits per second theoretically, which allows digital voice, video, text, and multimedia functionality.

SIM cards for tri-band phones.
SIM cards for tri-band phones.

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The advent of UMTS technology required new base stations to be constructed and additional frequency allocations, but since it is based upon Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), most UMTS devices support both technologies and offer dual operation. This means that if the user travels to an area where UMTS is not yet available, the phone will switch over to GSM mode and transmit through a series of towers and satellites. If the phone is equipped with tri-band UMTS, the data can stream over whatever frequency is available, which dramatically increases roaming capabilities.

Telecommunications researchers are working to increase UMTS data transmission speeds even further. The High Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) technology is a network upgrade designed to increase downloading speed, allowing smoother streaming of video and teleconferencing. The High Speed Uplink Packet Access is a similar upgrade that will shorten data uploading times and provide almost instantaneous signal connection. As communications technology moves toward fourth-generation (4G) networks, UMTS systems will be upgraded with the 3GPP Long-Term Evolution Packet, which will transmit data at speeds up to 100 megabits per second.

The majority of new communications devices are tri-band UMTS enabled, and the flexibility of coverage allows the user to have his desktop computer in the palm of his hand. Software designers are rushing to design applications specifically for "smartphones," and the phone-app industry has become more competitive, even as sales figures push into the billions. The introduction and explosion of tri-band UMTS technology has made the Internet available in places where it previously was not, and has kick-started entire industries as people rush to take advantage of information-on-the-go.

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