MOBILE NETWORK GENERATIONS

Mobile network generations refers to the different stages in the evolution of the mobile networks that we use on our smartphones. Every phone needs to make calls and connect to the internet. This is especially very important today as most services have gone digital and can now be found online. But it has not always been this way. It has been quite a journey, from the old (and painfully slow) analog radio networks to super fast 5G.

Understanding the different mobile network generations will show how far technology has come.


0G(Zero Generation)

All network types used before the first generation of cellular networks are all referred to as 0G. 0G means zero generation, implying that such networks do not a generation. Some experts or writers also refer to them as pre 1G cellular networks. These networks could only support voice calls and were usually location restrictive, i.e. the phone could only use that network in a particular area e.g. your street or only in one region. Roaming was not allowed.

The call quality of these phones were terrible. The network was analog. The phones that could use this network were also very bulky. Some had to be built into very heavy suitcases before one could carry them around. Others were built into cars. A car phone was a huge symbol of prestige in those days. Example of such networks are Motorola’s Mobile Telephone Systems (MTS), Improved Mobile Telephone Service (IMTS), Advanced Mobile Telephone Service (AMTS), RCC etc. These networks were all used pre 1979.

A zero generation mobile telephone (credit: Wikipedia)

1G (FIRST GENERATION)

In 1979, NTT DoCoMo rolled out a new cellular network in Tokyo, Japan. Before long, a similar network to the one invented by NTT called the Nordic Mobile Telecoms was implemented in Nordic countries like Norway, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland and even as far as Russia. The new 1G network could only support voice calls but it had a better call quality than the 0G networks. On the downside however, the network was analog and needed antennas which were attached to the phone. Phone calls were also very insecure and easily tapped. Phone sizes were huge and consumed a lot of battery. Some of the best batteries of that era only lasted for 30 mins.

Motorola DynaTAC 8000x, a typical 1G phone (credits: Wikipedia)

2G (SECOND GENERATION)

In Finland, 1991, a new network was developed and released for use by the public. This kick started the second generation of mobile networks. 2G brought us SMS, MMS and a very rudimentary form of WAP internet. 2G networks were now digital and calls became secure. Speaking about calls, the quality of calls bettered what the 1G networks had to offer. Phones became smaller and consumed less battery.

The 2G networks are CDMA, AMPS, GSM and TDMA.

Nokia 3310, A 2G phone that operated on the GSM network. (Credits: Wikipedia)

2.5G or GPRS which is represented on your phone with the symbol “G” is an improvement on the earlier 2G internet speeds.

2.75G or EDGE which is denoted as “E” on your phone is also a further revision of the 2G networks in 2003. It was meant to boost internet speeds as well.

Samsung 2.5G and 2.75G phones

3G (THIRD GENERATION)

In 1998, NTT DoCoMo developed what they called the third generation of mobile networks. For some reason however, it was not available to the public till 2001. There are two networks considered to be third generation. They are WCDMA and UMTS.

Now, while 3G networks did offer improved call quality over the 2G networks, it’s main focus was on improving internet speeds and connectivity. 3G brought with it video streaming and fast internet surfing. This is the era where mobile internet truly came of age.

Two further revisions to the original 3G networks were made and they all focused on boosting internet speeds. They are 3.5G also known as HSPA (H) and 3.75G also known as HSPA+ (H+).

3G networks are still the main networks used in many third world countries today.

Nokia E5, a typical early 3G phone (credits: Wikipedia)

4G (FOURTH GENERATION)

As time went on and despite the revisions to the 3G networks, the speed was not enough. In 2006, in South Korea, an early form of 4G was launched called WiMax but it was restricted to the Asian country. The Western world did not adopt WiMax but quietly decided to work on their own next generation network. Finally in 2009, in the UK, Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks became available to the public.

4G LTE heralded online gaming, video conferencing, better call quality and drastically reduced latency. Internet speeds were now really fast.

Further revisions to the 4G networks include VOLTE (voice over long term evolution) which improves the call quality even more and 4.5G (4G+).


5G (FIFTH GENERATION)

The fifth generation became commercially available in 2019 and it is still underway in many first world countries. At the moment, there is no 5G coverage in third world countries. Huawei which was at the forefront of 5G development and rollout plans has become the biggest casualty of a trade war between the United States and China. There are two main types of 5G networks currently being rolled:

  • Low and Mid band (Sub 6Ghz)

  • High band (mmWave)

mmWave 5G has the fastest data speeds known to man right now but the signal is weak and it does not cover a large area. If you are in a house for example, the walls could obstruct the mmWave signal signals. It quickly improves when you go outside and have a direct line of sight with the mmWave 5G antennae. Sub 6Ghz is not as fast as mmWave but it has a wider coverage and better indoor reception.

5G will bring improved internet support for augmented reality as well as virtual reality, remote control of smart devices over the internet such a surgeons performing surgeries from halfway across the world using smart equipment. 5G will also usher in the era of internet of things.


This brings us to the end of this post, I hope you learnt something definitely hit me up in the comment section. Till my next blog post, take care.

2 comments

  1. Great write-up as always.
    I’ve been an ardent reader of your threads both here and on NL.
    On an off topic, I’ll like you to write an article on Screen on time(SOT). I believe it’s not a true measurement of a battery’s strength.
    My reason for this submission is this:- Using an app like AccuBattery, it’s recorded that I have close to 12-13 hrs of battery usage (might be more). The screen on time meanwhile says I’ve used it for 5hrs. I love listening to music with my Bluetooth earpiece so even when the screen is off, the phone is been used and data is always on. This with other reasons are why I believe the SOT shouldn’t be a benchmark to rate a phone’s battery strength.
    Do holla @me when/if the article is written.
    Apologies for the epistle!
    Shalom.

    1. At this juncture, I completely understand and fully agree with you. Now, I like to approach these topics with an open mind so that bias doesn’t cloud my judgement while researching. It’s on the list of topics I had planned to write for next month. One research at a time.

      When I’m done, I’ll inform you ASAP.

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