generations of mobile networks

Generations Of Mobile Networks – The Evolution, 1G to 5G

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Last Updated on March 23, 2021 by Calvin C.

The latest high-end mobile devices support 5G, despite skepticism in the early days of its rollout. In this article, we look at the generations of mobile networks to lay the groundwork for future detailed evaluations of the new 5G network.

The basics of mobile networks

In a mobile network or cellular network, there are devices called transceivers that can transmit and receive data.

These come in the form of fixed transceivers and portable transceivers.

Fixed transceivers are grouped into cells with each cell responsible for providing coverage in a specific area.

Voice calls, text and other data can be transmitted from one cell to the next.

In order to prevent interference, the cells operate at different frequencies and they combine to provide coverage over a large network.

A portable transceiver, e.g. a mobile phone, tablet or computer, can move from cell to cell and still maintain its connection. 

Fixed transceivers are also linked to other telephone networks to enable communication with any mobile device in the network.

Base stations allow for the integration of these networks and ensure there is a quality connection.

Coverage for mobile networks is easily scalable as all you need to do is increase the number of cells.

Before we dive into the various generations of mobile networks, it is important to note that the first handheld mobile phone was invented in 1973.

This was done by Martin Cooper, who worked at Motorolla, and the phone weighed 1.1kg.

You had to charge it for 10 hours and the talk time was 30 minutes!

Evolution of the mobile networks

From observing trends, roughly every 10 years a new-generation mobile network is created, utilizing new frequency bands, with higher data transfer speed.

1G (First Generation)


Japan was the first country to introduce 1G network in 1979 and this service extended nationwide by 1984.

The radio signals in a 1G network are analogue as opposed to the other generations that are digital, hence the quality of the connection is poor.

However, this network still uses digital signalling to link radio towers to the rest of the mobile system.

Lack of encryption means anyone with a radio scanner is able to intercept the transmission and eavesdrop on the communication.

Download speeds are also very slow and that leaves a lot of room for improvement.

2G (Second Generation)

generations of mobile networks

2G was launched in 1991 and this is entirely digital, thus replacing the analogue system in 1G network.

The launch was done in Finland and it uses the GSM standard, or the Global System for Mobile communications standard.

GSM refers to standard protocols developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) for 2G cellular networks.

Improvements in the 2G network include the introduction of encryption between the mobile device and the base station, hence there is more security.

More users are accommodated in the same frequency band, compared to 1G.

SMS, picture and MMS messages is possible, as bits of data can be transmitted from one mobile device to the other.

Other improvements include better sound quality, less static and fast download speeds.

You can also send ringtones over the network.

When 2G was rolled out, cellphones became very popular and Nokia came up with the best bar phone.

To date, the best selling bar phone is the Nokia 1100 (released 2003)  and 1110 (released 2005), with combined sales exceeding 250 million units.

2G data transfer is enhanced with GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) or EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution).

With GPRS, transfer speed reaches 40kbits/s while in EDGE, transfer speed reaches 384 kbits/sec, in theory.

2G systems are still used today in ‘dumb’ phones and IoT (internet of things) devices because it keeps the costs down while providing functionality.

  • GPRS and EDGE both belong to 2G technology, with EDGE having a faster download speed that likens it to 3G.

3G (Third Generation)

sony ericsson

3G was launched in Japan in 2001 as an upgrade to GPRS and EDGE technologies.

It is based on International Mobile Telecommunications-2000 (IMT) specifications

This means data transfer speeds are up to 4 times faster than 2G, with speeds reaching at least 2 MBps.

Faster data speeds means with 3G you can:

  • Stream videos
  • Live chat
  • Send and receive emails seamlessly
  • Stream music

Just like upgrades in 2G, 3G also has faster releases to provide mobile internet access (mobile broadband).

This makes it possible to have high-speed internet on laptops, tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices, faster than 2G.

3G led to the rise of smartphones where users could surf the internet, listen to music, make calls, send emails and more, with their smartphones.

When iPhone 3G (iPhone 2) was launched in 2008, it redefined the smartphone completely.

That saw phone makers like BlackBerry and Nokia sink into oblivion as touchscreens became the new trend.

4G (Fourth Generation)

iphone 6

In 2009, 4G was rolled out in Norway for the first time and has even faster data transfer speeds than 3G.

The specification for 4G, called International Mobile Telecommunications Advanced (IMT-Advanced) specification,  is set by ITU (International Telecommunication Union).

This set the minimum data transfer speed in 4G to 12.5 MBps, thus opening new features that are supported by 4G networks:

  • HD streaming
  • Gaming
  • 3D TV
  • Video chatting

The first release, LTE (Long Term Evolution) isn’t actually 4G by definition as 4G must meet the ITU standards.

It is an upgraded version of 3G although LTE is marketed as 4G LTE.

Nowadays, premium mobile devices have true 4G, with download speeds in countries like Canada reaching 20 MBps.

During the time when 4G was launched, battle lines were drawn between Apple and Samsung, with both iPhone 6 and Galaxy S4 emerging as the best 4G phones.

Unlike 2G and 3G, 4G requires hardware that supports it and you cannot upgrade to 4G by simply changing your SIM card.

Technology evolved very fast and that saw the need for data transfer speeds faster than 4G.

5G was born…

5G (Fifth Generation)

iphone 12

5G was rolled out first in South Korea in 2019 and has since spread to other countries like Canada.

Modern smartphones like Samsung Galaxy S21 and iPhone 12 phone range all support 5G.

It is predicted that by 2025, more than 1.7 billion people will be using 5G.

5G works similarly to predecessors, with the mobile network consisting of cells, hence it is also a cellular network.

However, with 5G there are far greater data transfer speeds, with speeds reaching 10 GBits/s.

This high speed gives 5G the ability to serve high-speed internet to all devices that can access the internet, providing direct competition with regular internet service providers.

Only 5G-enabled devices are able to use the 5G network, so if you have a 4G phone, you need to upgrade to a compatible device.

The larger bandwidth (30 GHz to 300 GHz) of 5G means it is able to support more devices and technologies.

In future we will see more smart cities, more integration of devices, Artificial Intelligence and cloud computing.

5G goes beyond simple mobile communication because it ropes in a new facet of technology.


These are the generations of mobile networks and so far there is no evidence that mobile network signals pose a health risk. 

Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (WiFi allergy) remains a claim with no scientific basis.

In 2005 the World Health Organization highlighted that anyone who claims that he or she has been affected by radio waves from mobile phones should receive cognitive-behavioral therapy.

While this seemed to progress linearly from 1G to 4G, 5G opened a new door that sees rapid expansion of technology in the near future.

This will also definitely change the way we handle cybersecurity

Leave comments below about your thoughts on 5G and share the post with your friends.

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Tech writer and VPN expert. DIY enthusiast and loves anything to do with space science.

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