Journey from 1G to 5G networks

Engr Sabir Hussain

The G stands for generation and every generation of wireless technology defines the specific speed of data transmission. The first commercial 1G mobile network in the world was launched by Nippon Telephone and Telegraph Company (NTT) in Tokyo, Japan on 1st December, 1979 to cover the whole Japan. In 1983, the US approved the first 1G operations and the Motorola’s DynaTAC became one of the first mobiles to adopt this technology. 

It was basically a network with only voice call capabilities and used analogue systems. The 1G technology suffered from several drawbacks like poor coverage, low sound quality, no roaming support between various operators as different systems operated on different frequency ranges, there was no compatibility between systems and worse of all, calls weren’t encrypted and so unauthorized access to any call by anyone with a radio scanner was much easy. 

In the 1990s, the second generation (2G) mobile phone systems emerged, primarily using GSM (Global System for Mobile) standards, developed by European Telecommunications Standards Institute. The 2G mobile phone systems were different from the previous generation due to the use of digital transmission instead of analog transmission and by the introduction of advanced and fast phone-to-network signaling. 

As a result of 2G, the usage of mobile surged and this era also saw the rapid advent of prepaid mobile phones. For instance, the second generation introduced a new variant to communication, as SMS text messaging became possible, initially on GSM networks and eventually on all digital networks. Some benefits of 2G were digital signals consume less battery power; digital coding improved the voice clarity and reduced noise in the line.

Also, digital signals were considered environment friendly. Particularly, digital encryption provided secrecy and safety to both the data and voice calls. Later on, 2.5G was introduced using GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) to provide data rates from 56 kbps up to 115 kbps. Furthermore, the extended version of this technology was introduced called 2.5-EDGE (Enhanced Data rates for GSM Evolution) to offer clear and fast transmission of data up to 384kbit/s speed. 

As the use of 2G mobiles became more widespread and people began to use mobile phones in their daily lives and the demand for data services (such as access to the internet) grew dramatically. In the mid-2000s, an evolution of 3G technology was introduced. The main technological difference that distinguishes 3G technology from 2G was the use of packet switching rather than circuit switching for data transmission. In addition, the advent of 3G was mostly about speed of data transmission and 2G's high 200 kbps speeds was improved to a few Mbps in 3G, made the third generation 250 times faster than 2G. 

Later on, the demand of high data speed rose intensively and the 4G was installed to offer downloading speed of 100 Mbps for high mobility devices (such as when you're in the car or on a train), and around 1Gbps for stationary or low-mobility devices. This higher data speeds enabled smartphones much more comparable to PCs, provided effective access to social networks, streaming media, video calling and online gaming.

Now, the next milestone is 5G technology. It will allow moving data faster to numerous devices at the same time. According to Qualcomm report, a reputed telecom manufacturing industry, the 5G can achieve browsing and download speeds about 10 to 20 times faster than current 4G technologies. Furthermore, the superior connectivity offered by 5G promises to transform everything and makes new innovations like remote surgeries, detecting natural disasters instantly, visualization of outer space, attending a class virtually in real time from any part of the world, monitoring and investigation of any person or any part of the world will be possible. 

Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has already granted licenses to several telecom operators, among which Zong CMPAK has become the 1st Pakistani telecom company to have successfully conducted the 5G trial and expected to launch it commercially soon.  

The writer is a satellite engineer by profession. He did B.Sc Electrical Engineering (Telecom) from the COMSATS University, Lahore Campus and M.Phil in Space Science from the University of Panjab, Lahore. He can be contacted at:

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