Why’s it called 5G and what about 6G?

This week’s blog is all about the G’s. 

Not the Gen X, Y, Z (that would definitely be in coffee table sized book territory if we did a deep dive there!), but the mobile data generations as in 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and on the horizon, 6th Generation or ‘6th Gen’ if you are feeling trendy.

As always, we can go REALLY far back, or we can start at a particular evolutionary point in the history of wireless cellular technology.

1947 – Two engineers at Bell Labs (so called because of Alexander Graham Bell, disputed inventor of the telephone but let’s not get into that here😲) decided that the network diagram of the wireless towers that they were working on as they looked to develop this wireless technology looked like biological cells and the term cellular or ‘cell’ caught on. Hence why the Americans say ‘cell’ phone as opposed to ‘mobile’ phone.

Simplified structure of a mobile cellular network is illustrated, which mainly consists of five components: data centers in backhaul (the connection that ‘hauls back’ the data from the mobile base station to the Internet)  , macrocells (base station), femtocells(like your router in the house where you want to enhance your connectivity), mobile end-hosts (sends and receives but doesn’t pass the data on), and various mobile services (mobile apps). Image credit: Xiaofei Wang

1979/1980 – Jump forward 32 years and enter 1G in Japan which worked by transmitting voice signals over radio waves. It was a move forward but with poor quality and no security being just two issues you might be forgiven for thinking that two cups and some string might be cheaper and potentially as good haha! Now if you want to have a play here’s a video I found on One Stop Science Shop on making your own string phone! https://youtu.be/4S7nG6S1isM OK, back to the timeline.

1991 – Enter 2G launched in Finland by Radiolinja. (Also, home of Nokia so there you go!). Encrypted calls, better sound quality and speed. There was also a 2.5G that pitched up in 1999 that through adopting a similar bit of technology that allowed the Internet to flourish (packet switching) meant that you could get email and websites on your mobile phone.

2000/2001 – 3G was next, first introduced on a flip phone, the NEC e606. Check out this ‘Unboxing’ video and the cigar lighter charger, OMG remember them! Where have the years gone!! The ring tones at about 12 minutes in are brilliant too! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rxrJQ5xQpWM. This was the start of it being less about voice than about data as 3G meant faster data transmission which meant new and faster ways of using the phone such as video calls and TV online. These days 3G is mostly a back up for 4G with the likelihood of us waving it goodbye in the not-too-distant future. Phones were becoming ever ‘Smarter’. My first iPhone was 3G (also known as the iPhone 2) and was the successor to the first iPhone, launched with much fanfare by Apple in 2007. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x7qPAY9JqE4

Just watched it back and looking at it through the lens of 2023 and all that has happened in the intervening 15+ years, it really blows your mind to think how far we have come since then.

The front and back view of an iPhone 3

2010 – 4G gives us up to 10 times faster download speeds and all the extra features that come with such an increase in speed. Shortly before the arrival of 4G in 2010 on the HTC EVO 4G, the Android mobile operating system pitched up in 2008 (named after the company that developed it that was bought by Google in 2005), coming just a year after Apple launched the iPhone in 2007 and the whole Android Vs iPhone debate began (for the record I like and have both).

2018 – 5G and the first time Motorola has had a mention in this blog although a big player in the mobile phone market until around the mid 2000’s. The Moto Z3 with the 5G Moto Mod attachment meant more speed again, lower latency (the time it takes for a signal to go from the device out to the network and back again) and allowing lots and lots of folk to use their smartphones at the same time in the same place without the signal ‘traffic jams’ on the mobile data network. This should in theory mean the end of that annual pre–New Year’s Eve text message that starts ‘before the network gets too busy, happy new year etc etc…’


The future; 6G and Holograms...

Faster again 6G is very much under discussion although at the time of writing still a few years away yet. Several white papers and reports on 6G looking ahead to a potential launch in 2030 have been published over the last few years and if you check out some of them (here’s a link to one HERE), we are literally in the zone of that scene from Star Wars where Princes Leia’s hologram talks to Obi Wan…

(Oooh, holograms, think that’s getting added to the blog list!)

Princess Leia hologram gif

Hope you enjoyed this week’s blog chat. If you want to get the blog directly to your inbox as well as lots of other tips info and chat around data privacy and technology topics and tips, join our mailing list HERE

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