As with any technological development, mobile technology has gone through generations of upgrades. In the case of cell phones, carriers often refer to each generation in simple terms such as 3G, 4G, or 4GLTE. Each generation signifies development in capabilities beyond the previous technology.
But really, what does any of that mean?
Are there significant differences between generations? And what is in store for the next generation of connected devices?
History of mobile technology
While the average consumer would not notice the distinct differences, there have been five distinguishable generations of wireless/mobile technologies. Of course, that’s not to say the average person does not know the difference between cell phones of several decades ago versus now.
But there are distinguishable variances that separate capabilities.
– 1G: the first generation of mobile technology, 1G refers to the original networks of the 1990’s.
– 2G: the second generation began when mobile phones moved into more complex communication, allowing text messages.
– 3G: the third generation added internet access, allowing for smart phones to become the standard mobile technology.
– 4G: the fourth generation focused on increasing speeds and accessibility laid out by 3G.
– 4G LTE: this technology made existing 4G more consistent and faster, but it is not a separate generation of technology.
If you are an individual thinking I only need text, how can I get a 2G network, you are out of luck. 2G networks were sunsetted in 2016. In fact, 3G might not have much longer to exist. While it is possible to still access 3G networks, carriers no longer run tests or maintenance on those networks.
Instead, they are focused on maintaining 4G and 4GLTE while developing 5G networks and trial runs.
So, is the fifth generation really going to be much better?
The short answer is yes. The technology promises to be much faster than today’s current standards. With the increase in IoT devices and data heavy apps, 5G promises to run much more quickly than what is possible now.
Since 5G uses a higher-frequency band of the wireless spectrum, it will allow data to be transferred much more rapidly. However, that same frequency does not travel as far. The antennas must be spaced closer together than any previous generation, requiring more build out of the network.
And in all reality, this is a necessary development in technology. IoT connected devices, including everything from clothes washers to dog collars, are connecting on a regular basis via wireless networks. Soon smartphones and tablets will be the least of what is connected.
As with all new technology, there will be a few downsides to start. Not only will there need to be more antennas, but it looks like there will be a resurgence in carrier locked phones.
As of right now, each carrier is developing their own style of 5G. AT&T and Verizon are developing two different 5G networks with different Ghz ratings. This will require smartphones and devices to have different hardware, locking the device against other carriers.
Simply put, easy transition to other carriers while keeping the same phone will not be possible in the short term.
Though, the technology is still a few years off. Carriers such as Verizon are running trial runs in small amounts, but nothing is ready to convert to a large scale. Not only do the networks need to be built out, but devices need the necessary hardware to run on the higher frequency.
Not Budget Ready
While 5G is something to talk about, the actual technology will make an estimated appearance in 2020. Even then, there will be years of uptake and transition as devices and networks are built out.
Until then, 4G and 4G LTE serve most consumers without any issues. And at least for the short term, 3G is still in existence for those who do not need many capabilities.
However, as carriers push forward on 5G technology, there will come a day when carriers will sunset 3G and it will also go the way of old cellular networks.