Ah... the beauty of the convenience of a wireless network. Thanks to wireless network communication technologies, the world is what you'd call “connected”. However, it’s been a long road through each generation of network technologies to get to today's speeds, security, and data services.
While you might have a general idea, how much do you really know about the origins of network generations and their significance? What about their influence on future network generations?
With 5G gaining momentum, it’s a good time to walk down the memory lane of each network generation and see how each technology has led to the point where we are now.
Welcome to the world, 0G
A generation that the majority of people didn't even know existed. We can't blame them, though, since it hasn't been a topical subject for quite some time. Nonetheless, while 0G was a generally primitive era for wireless communication, everything has to have a beginning, right?
The rise of wireless network connectivity began in the form of a mobile radio-telephone system back in the 50s. Pre-cellphone communication devices were usually installed in cars or briefcases and would only support a limited number of channels for information transmission. The technology was based on analog signals used as communication transmitters between two endpoints to establish real-time voice calls.
0G was the generation that introduced two ways of communication. People initially used wireless communication with the push-to-talk (PTT) method. To imagine it better, think of it as walkie-talkies. The speaker had to push a button to send a voice message to the receiver and vice-versa. The other communication method – now known as the norm – was established after the PTT: an improved mobile phone system (IMPS). This method allowed both the speaker and receiver to listen and exchange information simultaneously.
0G technologies weren't available to the vast majority of people, so when the ambitious prospect of wireless communication became apparent, the development of 0G went further.
A trip to global waters with 1G
Around the 80s, private companies began creating the next generation of telecommunication: 1G. The essential function of 1G was similar to 0G – to let people make real-time voice calls using analog signals. But it's the approach and scale of the technology that made it so different. This generation was the beginning of a global wireless network.
With speeds of up to 2.4Kbps, 1G was able to support real-time voice calls at a much bigger scale due to an increased number of base stations in different geographical areas. All base stations reused frequencies, which meant that depending on the base station’s location, some areas had the same radio frequencies through which communication transmission was possible. While frequency reuse expanded the number of users, it inevitably led to some security issues.
As mentioned, 1G was based on analog signals, meaning the information of messages wasn't encrypted in any way. So, if your cellphone had caught the same frequency as another person's communication device – all of your private conversations could have been easily trackable by third parties.
With security issues in mind, an improved era of wireless communication was coming along.
2G – The rise of XOXO
Approximately ten years later, 2G network technology was released. The second generation of wireless communication knocked everyone's socks off by bringing improved security and data services, most of which remain relevant to this day.
First and foremost, this was the era that made SMS and MMS possible!
Emojis and text message abbreviations like “LOL” were also brought to life at that time :).
So, giving a round of applause to 2G for making texting and emojis possible seems only fitting. Other functions still used today, like conference calls, call holds, and roaming appeared with 2G. And while the network could only reach speeds of up to 64 Kbps, it was enough to do its job since data wasn't that heavy in the first place. Nonetheless, 2G did serve a significant role in IIoT for data transmission between machines that weren’t dependent on speed.
The second most prominent difference between 1G and 2G network technologies was related to information security in transit. Instead of transmitting data through analog signals, the 2G network employed digital signals which encrypt the information rather than leaving it as it is.
Another notable mention must go to 2.5G and 2.75G networks. These were versions of the original 2G just with improved security features and faster data transmission capabilities. But if these improvements already happened within the 2nd generation, what did 3G bring?
On cloud 9 with 3G
In case you didn’t know, 3G was the network technology generation notable for wirelessly bringing people to the Internet. Released around the 2000s, 3G made a giant leap forward from previous generations as it gave access to many data services that were previously only available through a computer.
With 3G, people could surf the web, write emails, and share all sorts of content in the tiny devices we call smartphones. As people could reach the Internet via their phones, 3G hooked consumers up with cloud services to wirelessly store all of their data without plugging it into other data storage hardware.
3G network was an improvement on a technical side as well. With adjusted speed and security protocols, this network generation could initially reach speeds of up to 200Kbps and greater security than its predecessors. 3G became widely employed in IIoT applications due to faster speeds and worldwide coverage, allowing tracking and monitoring of the machinery.
Throughout the 3G era, updated generation versions like 3.5G, 3.75G, 3.9G, and even 3.95G were created, though unlike 2.5G and 2.75G, they all remained under the same 3G umbrella term.
It seems like with 3G and all the new possibilities it brought, there wasn't that much room left for growth, right? Well, far from it.
Pedal to the 4G metal
While 3G had its big moment transforming wireless network possibilities, it had nowhere near the speeds that would go hand-in-hand with the modern life pace and high-performance demand. So, around 2010, the fourth network generation was born.
The main goal of 4G was to improve every single aspect of the previous generations' features and functions, like capacity of users, speed, security, and cost of data services. And it did both for personal and industrial uses. With 4G, it has become possible to continuously monitor and control all types of IIoT applications and even stream videos in real-time.
But before 4G could handle it, this network generation had a rocky start, as almost no Internet service provider (ISP) could match the set standards of 4G, especially in terms of network speeds. So how did everyone hop on the 4G train when it couldn’t even get going?
The solution, as it turned out, was to add more letters! For a network to be called 4G, its download speed couldn’t be lower than 100Mbps. So, as the network was greatly improved but couldn't be categorized as 4G, the term “4G LTE” was created to identify this improved wireless network.
After some time, ISPs were able to establish network connectivity capable of meeting the 4G standard criteria, but since the original 4G term wasn't new or exciting anymore, the term “4G LTE-A” was created solely for marketing hype.
4G isn't planned to be abandoned anytime soon, but we can't ignore the fact that there's a new sheriff in the networking town.
Meet the new sheriff – 5G
After this long ride, we've finally reached the most current stop of wireless network technologies; let's welcome the fifth generation!
With minimized latencies, improved speeds, and higher bandwidth, 5G plans to elevate our current lives significantly. It's expected that with 5G, latency will not exceed 1 millisecond. It will support seamless data transmissions, and hold download speeds of up to 2.5 Gbps and upload speeds of up to 1.25 Gbps. 5G promises ten times better services and user experience than its predecessors.
5G will revolutionize the ways we use and perceive our current wireless network technologies, both for private, everyday use, and IIoT. With this generation, home networks won't have to rely on wires anymore and IoT and related industries will be able to move forward with projects like self-driving cars and remote medical operations.
We've already surfed on the 5G topic wave, so if you're interested in finding out more about its prospects and specs, click here.
Seeing all network generations together gives us a better perspective of how far we've come as an improving society. With each network generation, new possibilities arise. What will the future with 5G look like? We'd say it seems bright.