Mobile communication is an essential component of our everyday lives. We use mobile devices to message friends and family, check directions on a map, take photos and videos, and update our social apps.
How has wireless mobile technology changed over time? What will the future hold? Let’s take a look.
From Past to Present: 1G to 4G
Cellular technologies are commonly known as 2G (GSM), 3G (W-CDMA), and 4G (LTE). These technologies keep our phones connected as we travel from one place to another. The history of wireless mobile technology is fascinating.
The first wireless mobile service started in the United States in the early 1970s with the IMTS technology and was able to serve a limited number of subscribers. The first commercial cellular network (1G) was then launched in Tokyo, Japan by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) in 1979. By 1984, it expanded to cover the entire population of Japan, and became the first nationwide 1G network in the world. The first international roaming mobile network was then launched in 1981, by Nordic Mobile Telephone (NMT) systems in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.
With strong growth in the subscriber base, there was a need for advancements in technology to accommodate more users and increase the number of services provided. 2G cellular telecom networks were commercially launched on the GSM standard in Finland in 1991. With the 2G network, phone conversations were digitally encrypted, achieving significantly greater spectrum efficiency and enabling far greater mobile phone penetration levels with data services such as text messages and picture messages.
The most commonly accepted 3G standard is the W-CDMA. This standard was developed by NTT-Docomo in the late 1990s. It was submitted to and accepted by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as the international 3G standard. It has since become the dominant technology with 457 commercial networks in 178 countries as of April 2012. This later became the platform to provide a smooth upgrade path to the 4G network, Long Term Evolution – LTE.
In short, the first generation (1G) fulfilled the basic mobile voice, while the second generation (2G) introduced capacity and coverage. This was then followed by the third generation (3G), which aimed for high speed data to enable a truly mobile broadband experience. The fourth generation (4G) will further realize that.
4G LTE Today
The 4G LTE market today is the start of a long-term evolution process. It is based on GSM/EDGE and UMTS/HSPA network technologies, which increases capacity and speed by using a different radio interface together with core network improvements.
The LTE format was first proposed by NTT DoCoMo of Japan and has been adopted as the international standard. However, the first release of LTE did not meet the requirements for 4G. This included peak data rates up to 1 Gb/s, faster switching between power states, and improved performance at the cell edge.
LTE-Advanced is the “True 4G” protocol. It was standardized in March 2011, and commercial deployment started in 2013. Many service providers such as SingTel, LG U+ in South Korea, and Telstra in Australia, have reportedly achieved data rate of 300Mbps, which is equivalent to a LTE category 6. The maximum possible is category 8, which is still in development and will allow data rates up to 1.5Gbps.
Wireless LAN Today
Since the birth of smartphones, phone makers such as Apple, Samsung, and HTC have incorporated and enabled wireless LAN. This allows users to have alternative wireless communications.
Wireless LAN technology started in 1999 with the introduction of 802.11a and 802.11b standards. 802.11a operates in the 5GHz range and offers data rates from 1.5Mbps to 54Mbps. 802.11b operates in the 2GHz range with data rates of up to 11Mbps. The 802.11b standard was then improved to 802.11g in 2003, which still operates in the 2GHz range, but provides improved data rates of up to 54MGbps.
In 2009, 802.11n was introduced to combine and make all previous standards (802.11a, b, g) work together in parallel. It achieved a data rate of 600Mpbs.
In 2012, 802.11ac, which operates in the 5GHz range, was introduced to the market and pushed the data rate above 1Gbps.
What will the future hold? 5G Cellular Technology and New Wireless LAN Technology
There are more than 1 billion smartphone users in the world. This figure is estimated to grow to 1.75 billion by the end of 2014 — that’s only about 39% of worldwide mobile phone users and about 24% of the entire world population. As the subscriber base and usage increases, there will be a greater demand for faster data and Internet access. The future of mobile wireless is bound to grow.
We will have significantly faster data rates with 5G cellular technology, which is casually termed to denote the next major phase of mobile telecommunications. Since the birth of the first mobile cellular technology (1G) in 1981, wireless technology has renewed itself about every ten years. The first 2G system was introduced in 1992, while the first 3G system appeared about ten years later in 2001, and then 4G systems were standardized in 2012. More specifically, the development of the 2G (GSM) and 3G (IMT-2000 and UMTS) standards took about 10 years from the official start of the R&D projects, and development of 4G systems started in about 2001 or 2002.
5G is estimated to be available by year 2020. In fact, the European Commission committed 50 million euro dollars in 2013 for research to deliver 5G mobile technology by 2020. The goal is to develop a system concept that improves the current LTE deployment by 1000 times, which means we can expect data rate in the range of 1Tbps.
Wireless LAN technologies will also drastically improve data rates. The next standard in the works is the 802.11ad, which operates in the 60GHz range for short distance line of sight communication. This standard is expected to deliver a peak data rate of 7Gbps. To the end-user, this means a full HD movie can be downloaded in less than a second.
For the traditional 2GHz and 5Ghz range, the next standard 802.11ax is in its early stages of development. It is targeted to deliver four times the peak data rate of 802.11ac, reaching 4Gbps.
Once routing and servers technologies can support the increase of data flow, end users will fully experience the increased data rate in technologies. The future is bright!