1G to 6G: Follow the evolution of the cellular network and where it’s going from here
Telecom operators are expected to roll out 5G services in India as early as October. Now, 5G promises high-speed, low-latency mobile Internet services on the go.
As we move towards this next generation of cellular networks, let’s take a look at the experiences each generation has brought and what the future – 6G – could bring.
1G: voice calls
It was a time when phones were thick, heavy and bulky. They had no screens and came with large antennas and massive batteries. The network reception was patchy and the battery life was miserable. Nevertheless, the history of the mobile network began here.
The first generation enabled communication between two supported devices over a wireless network. Based on the analog system, 1G only supported voice calls, and poor quality ones due to interference. Also, due to the lack of roaming support from the network, 1G operated in a fixed geographic area.
2G: telephony services
The second generation fixed the problems that plagued the first generation cellular network and introduced new features. The first generation analogue system has now been replaced by a highly advanced digital wireless transmission technology called the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM). With digital underpinning, the 2G supported better quality voice calls and data services such as Short Message Service (SMS) and Multimedia Messaging Service (MMS).
Also, this mobile network enabled roaming facilities that allowed users to join calls, send and receive texts and multimedia content on the go. The 2G network enabled real telephony services. It later gained internet support in the form of GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and EDGE (Enhanced Data GSM Evolution), but that alone wasn’t enough for a generational shift. So there was 2.5G before the world transitioned to 3G.
3G: Age of Apps
The third-generation cellular network introduced high-speed internet services that paved the way for smartphones and app ecosystems. While 3G enabled the concept of mobile television, online radio services and email on phones, it’s video calls and mobile apps that really define the 3G era.
This was the time when iPhones and Android smartphones were on the rise. The early iteration of 3G supported internet speeds in kilobytes per second (Kbps).
As with 2G, there was no direct switch from 3G to 4G. There was a 3.5G that was slated for better internet speeds in megabytes per second (Mbps) with the advent of technologies like HSDPA (High Speed Downlink Packet Access) and HSUPA (High Speed Uplink Packet Access).
4G: Internet calls
3G laid the foundation for 4G, the generation of cellular networks we are currently in. The concepts introduced by 3G, such as high-definition voice calls, video calls and other Internet services, become reality in 4G – thanks to a higher data rate and enhanced multimedia services that the mobile network supports. It perfected the LTE (Long Term Evolution) system, which significantly improves the data rate and allows simultaneous transmission of voice and data. Internet telephony or VoLTE (Voice over LTE) is one of the many advantages of the 4G mobile network. The network also enables Voice over Wi-Fi (VoWi-Fi), which enables voice calls in areas with little or no network coverage.
5G: IoT and enterprise
From 1G to 4G, each successive generation of communications technology brought significant changes to the network, perfecting the use cases of the previous generation and introducing new ones. However, 5G is expected to be a little different, in the sense that it will not just be another cellular network aimed at smartphone users, but also at businesses.
This is because the next generation of networks would not only bring improvements in data speed, but also latency and throughput. The low latency and high throughput make the network ideal for enterprise deployments, especially in terms of automation and the connected ecosystem.
On the consumer side, the network would deliver high internet speeds and likely play a crucial role in enabling technologies like the Metaverse.
6G: Connected ecosystem
6G is expected to drive the adoption of 5G use cases at scale through optimizations and cost reductions, particularly at the enterprise level.
Take the concept of the metaverse for example. It’s one of the 5G use cases that promises to disrupt both traditional and digital spaces. With 6G, the metaverse would not only evolve into a definitive model, but likely merge with the physical world with the help of artificial intelligence and machine learning.
This is because the most notable aspect of 6G would be the ability to sense the environment, people and objects, according to Nokia Bell Labs, the maker of telecom equipment.
India plans to roll out 6G services in late 2023 or early 2024 using domestically developed infrastructure.
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