2G, 3G, 4G or the evolution of mobile networks

Just as it normally happens with all socially accepted acronyms, we tend to forget what they stand for – provided we ever even knew! Most of the time grasping the concept behind the abbreviation is more than enough. And when it comes to mobile networks, it’s not any different.

In the end, as long as we are able to browse through Facebook while on the train, it doesn’t really matter what 4G means, right?

What exactly is the “G” after each number?

mobile-network-infographicThe battle of the “Gs” Simple timeline to understand mobile evolution

It stands for “Generation“. This, in a nutshell, is what each set of telephone network standards is comprised of. It defines the technological implementation details of a particular mobile network system.

In order of appearance

1G – In the beginning of time…

The bulky handheld brick mobile phone that revolutionised the world, used the Advanced Mobile Phone System protocol. This analogue network would later be known as 1G. Phones operated in a voice-only network and worked in a similar way to a regular radio transmission.  Being analogue meant calls were susceptible to noise and static caused by nearby electronic devices and anyone with a radio scanner could eavesdrop in on your call. Talk about a security breach! However, keeping in mind it was the initial approach to cordless communication, callers connecting to towers almost 40kms away is nothing short of impressive.

2G – Let’s get digital

Cue in the digital network, and with it, the solution to the security threat and the congestion of towers of analogue communications. The rise of digital cellular networks meant your everyday person now had access to a mobile phone. Text and multimedia messaging, Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) internet access and caller IDs were now a reality and thus the era of “permanent connection” began, at a staggering 40kbps, and incessant mail checking kicked off. Thanks to the digital compression codecs, more people could communicate per tower and less static noise was present on the other end of the line. However, the Global System for Mobile communication (GSM) system was severely limited when it came to coverage.

Evolution of 2G
General packet radio service
Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution
  • Also known as 2.5G
  • First evolution of GSM networks
  • Data transfers from 56 kbps up to 115 kbps
  • Packet-switching in addition to circuit-switching
  • Also known as Enhanced GPRS (EGPRS) or 2.75G
  • No new technology required
  • Data transfers to around 237 kbps
  • Higher speed packet switching method

3G – Mobile broadband

This sounds a bit more familiar, doesn’t it? As our data needs became more demanding, mobile networks had to keep in line. This is why the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) became the core network architecture. By combining aspects of the 2G network with new technology and protocols, the data delivery rate was significantly increased. In layman’s terms, 3G networks divided the data sent into small packages that were reassembled in the correct order on the other end upon arrival. This code based multiplexation allowed for a more efficient data transfer. Besides from being even securer than it predecessor, 3G telecommunication networks, by relying on bandwidth and location services, enabled the appearance of applications not previously available to mobile phone users.

4G – The future, today

mobile-network-infographicThe battle of the “Gs” Simple timeline to understand mobile evolution. What used to take us minutes to download nos is available within seconds. Source

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The 4G network is based on the International Mobile Telecommunications-Advanced (IMT-Advanced) standard. For us, this translates to an internet protocol (IP) packet-switched network that incorporates Voice-over-IP (VoIP) rather than the separate telephone call channel 3G networks used. According to the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), 4G must deliver speeds of 100 Mbps. Another perk this system claims to have is the seamless connectivity across multiple network types. So now, going from 4G to Wi-Fi and back should be a smooth handover without call or data interruptions.

More to come…

4G, although already a reality, is still being deployed worldwide. And while 5G is becoming the new buzzword among players in the mobile industry don’t expect it to be released just yet. Although it is said it’ll be a lot faster than 4G, it has been referred to as beyond 2020 mobile communications technologies.

Written by

Analytical by nature, Mora is always on the lookout for new tech trends and releases. Bridging the gap between IT and businesses is how this avid reader enjoys the best of both worlds. Her curiosity and dedication have earned her the EmpireOne's Business Systems Analyst role.