Mobile wireless communication system has gone through several evolution stages in the past few decades after the introduction of the first-generation mobile network in the early 1980s. Due to huge demand for more connections worldwide, mobile communication standards advanced rapidly to support more users. Let’s take a look at the evolution stages of wireless technologies for mobile communication.
History of wireless technology
Marconi, an Italian inventor, transmitted Morse code signals using radio waves wirelessly to a distance of 3.2 KMs in 1895. It was the first wireless transmission in the history of science. Since then, engineers and scientists have been working on efficiently communicating using RF waves.
The telephone became popular during the mid of 19th century. Due to wired connection and restricted mobility, engineers started developing a device that doesn’t require a wired connection and transmits voice using radio waves.
The invention of the first mobile phone – The evolution begins
Martin Cooper, an engineer at Motorola during the 1970s working on a handheld device capable of two-way communication wirelessly, invented the first-generation mobile phone. It was initially developed to use in a car; the first prototype was tested in 1974.
This invention is considered a turning point in wireless communication which led to an evolution of many technologies and standards in the future.
1G – First-generation mobile communication system
The first generation of mobile networks was deployed in Japan by Nippon Telephone and Telegraph Company (NTT) in Tokyo in 1979. At the beginning of the 1980s, it gained popularity in the US, Finland, the UK, and Europe. This system used analog signals, and it had many disadvantages due to technology limitations.
Most popular 1G system during the 1980s
- Advanced Mobile Phone System (AMPS)
- Nordic Mobile Phone System (NMTS)
- Total Access Communication System (TACS)
- European Total Access Communication System (ETACS)
Key features (technology) of the 1G system
- Frequency 800 MHz and 900 MHz
- Bandwidth: 10 MHz (666 duplex channels with a bandwidth of 30 KHz)
- Technology: Analogue switching
- Modulation: Frequency Modulation (FM)
- Mode of service: voice only
- Access technique: Frequency Division Multiple Access (FDMA)
Disadvantages of 1G system
- Poor voice quality due to interference
- Poor battery life
- Large-sized mobile phones (not convenient to carry)
- Less security (calls could be decoded using an FM demodulator)
- A limited number of users and cell coverage
- Roaming was not possible between similar systems
2G – Second generation communication system GSM
The second generation of mobile communication systems introduced a new digital technology for wireless transmission, also known as Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM). GSM technology became the base standard for further development in wireless standards later. This standard was capable of supporting up to 14.4 to 64kbps (maximum) data rate, which is sufficient for SMS and email services.
Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) systems developed by Qualcomm were also introduced and implemented in the mid-1990s. CDMA has more features than GSM regarding spectral efficiency, number of users, and data rate.
Key features of the 2G system
- The digital system (switching)
- SMS services are possible
- Roaming is possible
- Enhanced security
- Encrypted voice transmission
- First internet at a lower data rate
- Disadvantages of the 2G system
- Low data rate
- Limited mobility
- Less features on mobile devices
- Limited number of users and hardware capability
2.5G and 2.75G system
In order to support higher data rates, General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) was introduced and successfully deployed. GPRS was capable of data rates up to 171kbps (maximum).
EDGE – Enhanced Data GSM Evolution was also developed to improve the data rate for GSM networks. EDGE was capable of supporting up to 473.6kbps (maximum).
Another popular technology CDMA2000 was also introduced to support higher data rates for CDMA networks. This technology has the ability to provide up to 384 kbps data rate (maximum).
3G – Third-generation communication system
Third-generation mobile communication started with the introduction of UMTS – Universal Mobile Terrestrial / Telecommunication Systems. UMTS has a data rate of 384kbps, and it supports video calling for the first time on mobile devices.
After the introduction of the 3G mobile communication system, smartphones became popular across the globe. Specific applications were developed for smartphones that handle multimedia chat, email, video calling, games, social media, and healthcare.
Key features of the 3G system
- Higher data rate
- Video calling
- Enhanced security, more users, and coverage
- Mobile app support
- Multimedia message support
- Location tracking and maps
- Better web browsing
- TV streaming
- High-quality 3D games
3.5G to 3.75 Systems
In order to enhance the data rate in existing 3G networks, two technology improvements are introduced to the network. HSDPA – High-Speed Downlink Packet Access and HSUPA – High-Speed Uplink Packet Access, developed and deployed to the 3G networks. 3.5G network can support up to 2mbps data rate.
3.75 system is an improved version of the 3G network with HSPA+ High-Speed Packet Access Plus. Later this system will evolve into a more powerful 3.9G system known as LTE (Long Term Evolution).
Disadvantages of 3G systems
- Expensive spectrum licenses
- Costly infrastructure, equipment, and implementation
- Higher bandwidth requirements to support a higher data rate
- Costly mobile devices
- Compatibility with older generation 2G systems and frequency bands
4G – Fourth-generation communication system
4G systems are enhanced version of 3G networks developed by IEEE, offers higher data rate, and are capable of handling more advanced multimedia services. LTE and LTE advanced wireless technology used in 4th generation systems. Furthermore, it has compatibility with the previous versions; thus, easier deployment and upgrade of LTE and LTE advanced networks are possible.
Simultaneous transmission of voice and data is possible with an LTE system, which significantly improves the data rate. All services, including voice services, can be transmitted over IP packets. Complex modulation schemes and carrier aggregation are used to multiply uplink/downlink capacity.
Wireless transmission technologies like WiMax are introduced in 4G systems to enhance data rate and network performance.
Key features of the 4G system
- Much higher data rate up to 1Gbps
- Enhanced security and mobility
- Reduced latency for mission-critical applications
- High-definition video streaming and gaming
- Voice over LTE network VoLTE (use IP packets for voice)
Disadvantages of the 4G system
- Expensive hardware and infrastructure
- Costly spectrum (in most countries, frequency bands are too expensive)
- High-end mobile devices compatible with 4G technology are required, which is costly
- Wide deployment and upgrade are time-consuming
5G – Fifth-generation communication system
5G network is using advanced technologies to deliver ultra-fast internet and multimedia experience for customers. Existing LTE advanced networks will transform into supercharged 5G networks in the future.
In earlier deployments, 5G network will function in non-standalone mode and standalone mode. In non-standalone mode, both LTE spectrum and 5G-NR spectrum will be used together. Control signaling will be connected to the LTE core network in non-standalone mode.
There will be a dedicated 5G core network higher bandwidth 5G – NR spectrum for standalone mode. The sub-6-GHz spectrum of FR1 ranges are used in the initial deployments of 5G networks.
In order to achieve a higher data rate, 5G technology will use millimeter waves and unlicensed spectrums for data transmission. A complex modulation technique has been developed to support massive data rates for the Internet of Things.
Find more about what is 5G NR (New Radio) and how 5G NR works
Cloud-based network architecture will extend the functionalities and analytical capabilities for industries, autonomous driving, healthcare and security applications.
Key features of 5G technology
- Ultra-fast mobile internet up to 10Gbps
- Low latency in milliseconds (significant for mission-critical applications)
- Total cost deduction for data
- Higher security and reliable network
- Uses technologies like small cells and beamforming to improve efficiency
- Forward compatibility network offers further enhancements in future
- Cloud-based infrastructure offers power efficiency, easy maintenance, and upgrade of hardware
Comparison of 1G to 5G technology
Wireless technology has been continuously evolving to meet increasing demands and higher specification requirements since the deployment of first-generation mobile networks; the telecommunication industry is facing lot of new challenges in terms of technology, efficient utilization of spectrum, and, most importantly, security to end users. Future wireless technologies will provide ultra-fast, feature-rich, and highly secure mobile networks.