What IsUMTS?

Short for Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service, UMTS is a group of radio technologies that are synonymous with third-generation (3G) mobile networks.

It is considered an upgrade from its predecessors since it allows for a faster transfer of data and offers greater bandwidth, advanced capabilities, and improved radio spectrum efficiency. Although more recent technologies exist (such as 4G), UMTS is still common among many subscribers. The term is often interchangeable with 3G and has been around since the early 2000s. 

Elements of UMTS

User Equipment

The user equipment refers to the mobile device itself as well as the SIM card. Also known as U-SIM (universal subscriber identity mobile), the SIM card enables the mobile station to transmit signals. Its main functionalities include carrying the subscriber’s identity, carrying out authentication algorithms, and storing encryption and authentication keys. 

Access Network

The access network is composed of towers that the user equipment connects to. Also called Node B or ULTRAN (UMTS Radio Access Network), these towers serve as the link between the mobile device and the rest of the network. There can be more than one Node B depending on how large the mobile network is. The access network is the equivalent of GSM’s base station subsystem.

Core Network

The core network is the backbone of UMTS. It consists of two domains: packet-switched (PS) and circuit switched (CS). While the packet-switched elements carry the packet data and handle the internet services, the circuit-switched elements process voice calls. As an overall entity, the core network provides all the monitoring and central processing for the system. It is the equivalent of the NSS (GSM’s Network Switching Subsystem). 

Difference Between UMTS and Previous Systems


Global System for Mobile Communication, or GSM, was the standard technology before the deployment of UMTS. Commonly referred to as the second generation of wireless networks (2G), GSM offered voice calls, text messaging, and basic data services. Unlike UMTS, GSM systems did not support advanced features such as IoT and video transmission. While 2G networks improved over time, UMTS was still 40 times faster on inception with a 384 kbit/s downlink rate compared to GSM’s rate of 9.6 kbit/s. UMTS rates became even faster over time, with 168 mbit/s for downlinks and 22 mbit/s for uplinks. 


Although UMTS makes use of code division multiple access (CDMA), its bandwidth is broader than that of other CDMA networks such as CDMA2000. UMTS is sometimes referred to as wideband CDMA (or WCDMA). The primary difference between UMTS and CDMA is that the former operates on a 3G network, while the latter directly competes with GSM as a 2G technology. In addition, UMTS frequency bands are wider than those of CDMA (5MHz compared to 1.25MHz). The wider bands allow more users to transmit data at the same time. 

Common Applications of UMTS

The success of the UMTS technologies facilitated a variety of innovations such as sharing multimedia files over the internet in real-time. It is also known for revolutionizing the mobile entertainment industry. Top uses of UMTS include:

  • Emails and multimedia messaging

  • Video conferencing

  • Mobile eCommerce

  • Streaming and downloading audio and video

  • Mobile gaming

  • Internet of Things (IoT), such as for smart home devices