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Everything You Need to Know About Mobile Phones

Updated on September 24, 2009

Mobile Phones

The modern mobile phone is a minature computer. However, the complexity does mean that it is very hard to find the handset right for you. I'm not a saleman and am not going to try to tell you what device to buy. I can arm you with the knowledge to make that decision though and give you a general pointer into what kind of device you should be considering.

There is a lot of confusion about mobile phones and their technology. Hopefully, the below will help and guide you around the world of mobile phones.


As with most areas of IT, the mobile phone industry is chock-full of acronyms.  Here they are!

GSM - Global System for Mobile Communications. This is your traditional mobile phone signal that allows the sending and receiving of voice and data. It is a cellular network; all devices connected to GSM are done so via a mast providing coverage in that cell.

GPRS - General Packet Radio System. GPRS is generally used to simply mean "all data via GSM". Technically though, GPRS is a data service that provides up to 56 Kilobit per second (kbps) data, which is about 5K a second download speed. If you can get a mobile phone signal, you can usually get GPRS. This is also referred to as 2G.

EDGE - Enhanced Datarates for GSM Evolution. As the definition suggests, this should be a step above GPRS, and in some respects, it is. EDGE can be easily deployed on an existing GSM network, therefore the upgrade is a cheap one for your mobile operator. However, the top speed is about 1Mbps, which is about 100K per second. EDGE is sometimes referred to as 2.5G

3G - 3rd Generation. 3G is a collection of sub-standards (some count EDGE as being a 3G technology. I refuse to accept this due to the download speeds and the relatively poor adoption by all except Orange). Speeds range between 396Kbps up to 14Mbps.

HSDPA - High Speed Data Packet Access. This is a 3G technology and can hit speeds up to 14Mbps, meaning downloads up to 1.4Mb per second. At this moment in time, I have seen a maximum of 7.2Mbps supported by UK operators such as T-Mobile and Virgin.

HSUPA - High Speed Uplink Packet Access. This is another 3G technology, hitting speeds up to 5.2Mbps (500Kb download per sec).

Bluetooth - A short-range wireless technology that is used mostly to connect devices together for short sessions. Using Bluetooth, you can connect a device to a handsfree kit, a computer, a mouse/keyboard or to another phone temporarily. The tricky thing about Bluetooth is that each Bluetooth-enabled device can support certain services, and it is not immediately clear what services a device will support. For example, most devices support the Handsfree Bluetooth service. This means that you can use a car kit or an earpiece to take and receive your calls. However, the device might not support Object Exchange (OBEX), meaning that you will be unable to send files to other Bluetooth devices. Most Blackberrys do not support the OBEX service.

Wifi - Wireless Fidelity. This is used to connect phones and computers to a wireless access point near the device's vicinity. Wifi has different standards that dictate its maximum speed and range; 802.11g is the standard at the moment, offering 54Mbps and 100mtrs range. 802.11n is now being introduced, which offers 600Mbps speed and 300Mtrs range. A phone with wifi will allow internet access only if a wireless access point is nearby.

SMS - Simple Message Service. A text message.

MMS - Multi Media Service. This uses GPRS to send a message containing graphics and sounds to another phone.

GPS - Global Positioning System. This is used to pinpoint the device's location using geo-stationary satellites in orbit. A phone with GPS may not necessarily have sat-nav capabilities; the sat-nav function will almost always require separate software in order to provide directions. You may see the acronym A-GPS. This stands for Assisted GPS, and uses data downloaded from the Internet in order to provide a faster Time For First Fix (TFFF) when initially looking for the satellites. Don't worry if your device does not have Internet access when using an A-GPS device; all it does is take longer to lock onto satellites initially.

PDA - Personal Digital Assistant. A device that provides PIM (Personal Information Management) functionality. In simple terms, this is a Calendar, Contacts, Task list and Messages. In reality, a PDA device usually refers to a touchscreen phone.

Smartphone - The term Smartphone now means any handset that can offer email, Internet and an organiser. Technically though, a Smartphone is a device running Windows Mobile Standard (non-touchscreen).

USB - Universal Serial Bus. This is a standard form of connector on Personal Computers. A device that allows connection via USB simply means that you can attach your computer and phone together via a USB flylead in order to transfer files or charge the device.

Blackberry - A device made by Research In Motion (RIM). The Blackberry is now synonymous with email devices. Corporations that want to use Blackberrys will need to install Blackberry Enterprise Server in their network to run alongside an email server such as Microsoft Exchange. Consumer Blackberrys can use many widely-known email accounts such as Yahoo, Hotmail and POP3 accounts.

Android - A mobile operating system developed by Google. Android is essentially a form of Linux running underneath a customised Java programming interface. It is designed to compete with the iPhone.

Windows Mobile - A mobile operating system developed by Microsoft. It comes in two varieties; Standard (non-touchscreen, or Smartphone edition) and Professional (touchscreen, or PocketPC edition). Windows Mobile is a derivitive of Windows CE, a version of Windows build to run on small simple devices. It is the most mature mobile operating system in terms of availability of applications and support, but is looking more static than other operating systems.

Symbian - A mobile operating system owned in part and used largely by Nokia. It is the most widely-used "smartphone" operating system, although this statistic depends on the definition of "smartphone".

iPhone - A product developed by Apple, it is an expansion of the iPod but with PIM and cellular capabilities. The new 3GS can use a Microsoft Exchange server to provide PIM functions, therefore placing it within the business marketplace as well as the consumer zone.

VoIP - Voice over Internet Protocol. Rather than a voice conversation taking place using an analogue line or cellular phone connection, VoIP takes an analogue sound, converts it into data packets and sends it over a data network (such as the Internet). VoIP is mostly used in corporations to save money on phone bills, but applications such as Skype take advantage of widespread always-on broadband connections to provide clear-quality voice conversations. Some phones have the ability to use Skype through their GPRS and 3G connections.

Tethering - Connecting a mobile phone to a computer or laptop so that the phone can be used as a mobile modem. This means that a laptop can go onto the Internet through the phone. Most mobile providers do not allow tethering without additional contract terms and money.

The Best Solution For You?

The more features a device has, the more expensive it is.  So what is the best solution for you?

Below are some of the most common requirements followed by a recommended product.  Each solution will require some research into finding the best tariff deal in your country.  I would STRONGLY recommend that you signup to an unlimited data tariff if you are going onto the Internet or receiving emails.  I have a horror story about a £12,000 data bill because a guy gave his 3G card to his kids for three weeks.  Also, do take out insurance on your handset.  Most providers are pretty good at supplying replacement handsets, and you will thank yourself when you do break your phone.

1.  I want a device that can make and receive phone calls.  I want to send and receive text messages.  I will be using this for personal infrequent use.

Solution - Standard handset.  Any classic handset will do.  Budget dictates in this circumstance, but don't kid yourself; if you just need to talk on the move, something small and shiny will be more than enough.

2.  I want a device that I can make and receive phone calls.  I want to send and receive text messages and emails.  I want to access the Internet.  I want to take pictures and send them to email addresses and other phones.  I want this to work with existing email addresses.  I want a device that will require little in the way of configuration.  I will be using this for frequest personal use.

Solution - Blackberry Storm or Perl

3.  I want a device that I can make and receive phone calls.  I want to send and receive text messages and emails.  I want to access the Internet and Intranets.  I want to take pictures and send them to email addresses and other phones.  I want this to work with existing email addresses and/or an existing corporate mail server.  I want a device that can be customised and work on different networks.  I want to run different applications for creating and editing documents.  I want to run music and videos infrequently.  I will be using this for heavy personal use and/or business use.

Solution - Windows Mobile Professional

4.  I want a device that I can make and receive phone calls.  I want to send and receive text messages and emails.  I want to access the Internet.  I want to take pictures and send them to email addresses and other phones.  I want this to work with existing email addresses.  I want a device that can be customised and work on different networks.  I want to run different applications for entertainment.  I want to run music frequently.  I will be using this for heavy personal use.

Solution - iPhone or Android-based Device

5.  I want a device that I can make and receive phone calls.  I want to send and receive text messages and emails.  I want to access the Internet.  I want this to work with an existing corporate mail server.   I will be using this for heavy business use.

Solution - Blackberry or Windows Mobile


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    • profile image

      It’s Williamadams728agmailcom 

      13 days ago

      It’s Williamadams728agmailcomI would I like to add the logo on my phone Hillsbrough County water department that’s all I want is Hillsbrough County water

    • profile image

      Ganesh B 

      7 years ago

      Hi MrWerd!

      I know I sound like a dinosaur but I am just going to get my first mobile tomorrow; however I am email savvy. My questions are: What is charging? This is I guess to make the instrument work. What is currency? This helps you use it. What is a battery? My brother gave me a phone with a charger and a battery. I don't have a clue. Please advise. My email is

      Your notes were helpful.


      With best regards,


    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I thought I knew it all. I actually learned a little bit that I didn't know before. Also do you have any idea when the Samsung Galaxy S II is coming out. This dual-core beast is the phone I have been waiting for. If you have any info please email me at

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      sort of helped but thanks

    • smartboymkt profile image


      9 years ago

      wow........realy a great hub......thank you

    • | Fusion | profile image

      | Fusion | 

      9 years ago

      Good review, thanks.


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