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There's a lot of buzz about "3G" in the mobile phone world — not least of all with the iPhone 3G from Apple [NADSAQ:AAPL]. But what exactly is 3G, and why do some phones and locales have it, and others don't?

3G is simply a moniker for a next-generation GSM network capable of supporting faster data transfer speeds. Right now, AT&T is the 3G leader, with network support in most major metropolitan areas. Regular old GSM networks like AT&T's EDGE network — also called 2G, for those paying attention to the pattern — can also transmit data, just a little slower. And while 3G is seeming like a must-have for most new phones, several networks worldwide are already at work on their 4G networks.

In any case, T-Mobile [NYSE:DT] is finally joining the 3G party by rolling out their first next high-speed network in Last Vegas. The company already has 3G in New York City, but the Vegas announcement represents that crucial second implementation that signifies to customers there are more to follow. In fact, T-Mobile plans on expanding 3G coverage to at least 20 additional areas by Q4 of 2008. 

According to the company's press release, T-Mobile has invested almost $38 million in various stuff ("infrastructure and spectrum," specifically) to bring Las Vegas 3G to market, which gives an idea of the colossal investment required to convert the rest of the nation's cities to 3G.