The History of Wireless Phone Technology – 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G

Posted on November 30, 2011 by
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Welcome to the world of 4G cell phones. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where 4G works, then you’ll know how great it is. You get internet connectivity that works as well as a home broadband link up, meaning you can surf and download at the same time – and pretty much use the net on a mobile device with all the flexibility allowed by the size of your screen.

So how did we get here? Before 4G was 3G, before that was 2G. And before that was the original wireless cell phones signal.

Now here’s an interesting piece of information for the techno geek – which may also help you decode the reasons behind your cell phones’ performance not being as lightning fast as you thought it would be. 4G and 3G have two separate definitions: a technical definition, which is achieved by looking at the guaranteed average connection speed of your device; and advertising shorthand, which has nothing to do with connection speed at all.

Helpful, isn’t it. It is if you’re an advertising company, which can slap a “4G” label on all devices now being released, whether they actually achieve the minimum download speeds required to ratify them as genuine 4G connections. The advertiser’s 4G (this was true of 3G as well) simply means “4th generation”. 3G meant “3rd generation” – and 2G, you guessed it, meant 2nd generation. All that actually means is that the phones or mobile devices in question represent a technological advance from the phones that we used to use: so 2G phones had colour screens, whereas 1G phones didn’t.

Note that I’m talking about 1G and 2G cell phones and not connections. If you start talking about connections then there’s a whole different level of definition going on.

2G connections were digitally encrypted, reached further (so one phone mast had a greater coverage) and included data transmission (i.e. text messages). 3G connections had a minimum transmission speed appended. You had to have a minimum of 200Kbps download speeds to be 3G. Later 3G versions started supporting mobile broadband – though as we all know that only ever worked (and still really only works) for cell phones in metropolitan areas., Getting the net away from a city is hard work for most phones.

4G claims to be “three times faster” than 3G – or rather, the manufacturers of cell phones claim that 4G is three times faster than 3G. That’s reasonably misleading. 4G actually has two minimum transfer requirements – 100MBps in moving applications (such as your car); and 1GBps for stationary devices (i.e. cell phones). So really, if your phone is properly 4G connected it should be delivering hyper fast internet with a transfer rate many times quicker than a standard home broadband connection.

Of course all of this technical mumbo jumbo is pretty much immaterial to the average everyday user of cell phones. Who cares what the minimum transfer speed is for a 4G connection? All I want to know when I buy a 4G cell phone is that it will give me much faster internet than a 3G phone did. Which it will, by miles – unless you live in the country, in which case you won’t get a 4G signal at all.

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