5G is coming. Here's a look back at the other "G's".
If you're like the vast majority of mobile phone users, you've probably seen the small notation next to your cell signal change over the years. First it was EDGE, then 3G, 4G, and now LTE. You probably didn't think anything of it, until you realized that LTE change to EDGE and your phone slowed down by tenfold.
So what do these brief notations really mean? It's pretty simple: it designates which mobile network generation your cell phone is using.
Let's take a trip back to 1983, when Motorola started commercially selling their new mobile phone, the DynaTAC 8000X. For a whopping $4,000 a handset, you could make as many calls as your 30 minute battery would last. These phones, known as "brick phones" for their boxy shape and hefty weight, ran on the 1G wireless cellular network. This network had 2 kbps of bandwidth, using analog technology and circuit voice/data switching. Strictly for making phone calls, this network was not equipped to handle any data rates.
About 10 years later, a newer cellular network was rolled out in Finland in 1991. The new 2G network technology allowed for both voice and data communication via an upgraded digital network. Network bandwidth was boosted to 9.6-14.4 kbps (and around 384 kbps as the tech developed), making SMS text messaging and basic internet connection possible in a small, mobile device. Throughout the 1990's and early 2000's, we see the emergence of flip phones and PDA devices geared towards the ability to not only make calls, but quickly send personal messages and even emails. This network will mostly be phased out by 2020 by the major carriers around the world.
If you can recall, 3G was a major milestone in mobile communications. That's because alongside this network's roll-out in 2002-03, was also the emergence of the smartphone. Back in 2007, Apple unveiled the first-generation iPhone that revolutionized the phone industry. Their first iteration was still on the older 2G EDGE network due to poor performing mobile device antennas, but by 2008, the iPhone 3G debuted, pushing the mobile communications industry into the future. 3G networks boasted a much improved 3 Mbps of peak data bandwidth (more than 8x faster than 2G EDGE). The 3G era ushered in the era of mobile web browsing, app stores and phone applications, and streaming based content.
For the past nine years, our phones have been operating on the 4G/LTE networks. We've seen a very significant increase in mobile broadband speed, reaching up to 100 Mbps upload and download speeds over cellular. Both voice and data are digital, all IP, true mobile broadband. You're probably pretty used to the network we have now, and also pretty satisfied. So what's next for your cellular network? It's coming sooner than you think, and it's going to be awesome.