The Evolution of Mobile Communications, from 1G to 5G

When we describe mobile communications, we refer to the overall technology, speed, frequency and system in numeric generations such as 3G, 4G or 5G. Each generation have unique technologies that define them. This blog explores and explains the differences throughout the evolution of mobile communications and what we can expect from the future generations of these technologies.

1G

The very first generation of commercial cellular network was introduced in the late 70’s with fully implemented standards being established throughout the 80’s. The radio signals used by 1G are analogue, meaning the voice of a call is modulated to a higher frequency rather than being encoded to digital signals.

Analogue signals degrade over time and space meaning that voice data can very often lack quality within a call. In comparison, digital is a representation of analogue stored as signals, meaning larger amounts of data can be carried more effectively.

2G

The second generation saw the introduction of GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) technologies as a standard in the early 90’s. It allowed for digital voice and data to be sent across the network and allowed users to roam for the first time.

2G also used Signalling and Data Confidentially and Mobile Station Authentication to ensure improved security and privacy of telephone calls.

The advance in technology from 1G to 2G introduced many of the fundamental services that we still use today, such as SMS, internal roaming, conference calls, call hold and billing based on services e.g. charges based on long distance calls and real time billing.

2.5G

Between the year 2000 and 2003, an upgrade in technologies introduced the packet network which provided high speed data transfer and internet and became known as 2.5G.

The standards included GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and EDGE (enhanced Data Rates in GSM).

GPRS supports flexible data transmission rates and provides continuous connection with the network. It also allows for the service provider to charge for the amount of data that is sent rather than their connection time.

3G

Introduced commercially in 2001, the goals set out for third generation mobile communication were to facilitate greater voice and data capacity, support a wider range of applications, and increase data transmission at a lower cost.

For the first time, this generation supported high speed wide band internet access as well as fixed wireless internet access and allowed for video calls, chatting and conferencing, mobile TV, video on demand services, navigational maps, email, mobile gaming, music and digital services such as movies.

Significantly greater security features were introduced within 3G, including Network Access and Domain Security and Application Security.

4G

Initiated in 2010, the fourth generation is an all IP based network system. Its purpose is to provide high speed, high quality and high capacity to users while improving security and lower the cost of voice and data services, multimedia and internet over IP.

The major benefit of an IP based network is that it is able to seamlessly handover, for voice and data to GSM, UMTS and CDMA2000 technologies from the previous different generations infrastructure.

4G introduced the LTE standard which only support packet switching and an all IP Network. There are a significant amount of infrastructure changes needed to be implemented by service providers in order to supply because voice calls in GSM, UMTS and CDMA2000 are circuit switched, so with the adoption of LTE, carriers will have to re-engineer their voice call network.

5G

5G is the next generation of commercial cellular network, set to greatly increase internet connectivity speeds. At this time, there aren’t any publicly agreed definitive standards that have been set as with previous generations so not a great deal of information is known about the specific technologies that are going to be used.

Different estimations have been made for the date of commercial introduction of 5G networks, but they are generally around the year 2020.

One of the main benefits of increased connectivity being plugged as the underlying selling point of 5G is IoT (Internet of Things), which would make the most of the higher speed of connectivity to allow for seamless integration of devices on a scale never been achievable before. You can read more about IoT and the details of the technology in our article ‘Internet of Things: Explained’ here.

Speed (data rates) = 1Gbps to 10Gbps (claimed by service providers in lab conditions)

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