EDGE vs. 3G vs. HSDPA

EDGE vs. 3G

The critical difference between these two technologies is that EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for Global Evolution or Enhanced Data for GSM Evolution), by definition, is an enhancement to existing GSM networks, using existing GSM frequencies. 3G is seen as a powerful driver for the development of terminals capable of full-web browsing.
EDGE is often referred to as a 2.75G network. It is a further step towards the capacities and capabilities of 3G, offering data speeds that are required for music and videos. EDGE does not, however, offer video telephony.

3G vs. HSDPA

HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) is a 3G enhancement that delivers superior speed. Its performance is comparable to today's wireless LAN services, but with the added benefit of mobility and ubiquitous coverage.
HSDPA will make life easy for 3G customers, providing vastly better service for both corporate users and individuals, with data delivered at speeds comparable to or better than fixed-line broadband access systems.
The latency (response delays) of interactive applications such as chat and online gaming is reduced with HSDPA, making the response times for these applications faster.

The following table compares the theoretical speeds available for these three technologies:

Maximum download
236 Kbps
384 Kbps
1.8 Mbps
Maximum upload 
Approximately 100 Kbps
64 Kbps
384 Kbps

maximum speeds will be in the order of approx 80% of the maximum, whilst average speeds will be in the order of 50% to 60% of the maximum. Factors affecting speeds will be terminal (handset) capability, radio capability (the network), signal strength (how far you are from a network tower), and how many concurrent users are on the cell.
It is also important to remember that network and handset technology is constantly improving and higher speeds can / will become available over time.

Supported technology
With the overwhelming adoption of EDGE and 3G in South Africa, handsets and data cards are readily available to support these new services. There is, however, no forward compatibility in any of these technologies which means that EDGE users are required to purchase new handsets and data cards if they want to make use of 3G.
The same applies for users who would like to move to HSDPA from 3G. Their 3G data cards will not be able to support HSDPA and as such require upgrade. As of yet, no handsets are HSDPA compliant in South Africa, but there are plans to roll these out later in 2006. Laptop cards are available.
Whether one is working from home, travelling, or at a favourite coffee shop, the advantages of 3G are undeniable, and to many people this high speed volume capacity has become an indispensable tool in communication without borders. The introduction of HSDPA further enhances 3G's capabilities and the investment that network providers have put into these new technologies means that they will be here for a while to come. Clearly affordability must be considered.
Whether EDGE will stand the test of time and be a universally adopted technology remains open to debate. However, the fact that it is still being widely embraced in South Africa bodes well at least for its short-term future.


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