0-1-2-3-4 The G’s of Mobile Communication

The goal of this article is to let the readers know of the different generations of wireless telephone networks we have been through or hopefully will see in the future. I assure you it will be an interesting and informative read.

0G Networks:

0G or pre-cellular network is here just for the sake of reference, always remember your ‘roots’ kind of thing. They operated mostly the same way as the landlines did the only difference was they were wireless. Some people would still wish for these types of networks for two reasons. One, it may be a good choice for long range communication in scarcely populated areas (a single tower, Base Station, can cover an area of 40-60 miles). Two, you could listen to them using your Radio ;)

  • Technology: IMTS (Improved Mobile Telephone Service).
  • When? 1960’s
  • Frequencies: VHF Low (35–44 MHz), VHF High (152–158 MHz), UHF (454–460 MHz).
  • Facilities/Benefits: Simultaneous two-way communication (full duplex) and Direct Dialing, no waiting for the operator.
  • Availability: scarce, discontinued.
  • Limitation/s: very limited number of subscribers could be added.

1G Network:

Again an analog communication system, almost same as the previous 0G network. It can also be a good choice for long range communication. The technology used here (AMPS) was later converted to D-AMPS (Digital-AMPS) which is a 2G standard.

  • Technology: AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone Service)
  • When? 1980’s. first installation 1982.
  • Frequencies: 800Mhz
  • Facilities/Benefits: Could accommodate 5 to 10 times more users than IMTS by dividing an area into smaller cells (hence the tern ‘cellular network’).
  • Availability: Effectively discontinued & replaced by digital networks.
  • Limitation/s: Severe security issues. Not even you could listen into the conversation but could hack it for free calls (make someone else pay the bill).
  • Example: InstaPhone (remember you had to buy the handset from InstaPhone too?) InstaPhone later migrated to D-AMPS (discussed above).

2G Networks:

Here comes the most dominant form of wireless telephone network in Pakistan. From here after the term ‘technologies’ will be replaced by ‘standards’. For you understanding you can just ignore this and keep on reading it as technologies.

  • Standards: GSM & CDMAOne.
  • When? GSM: 1990, Finland. CDMA: 1989, San Diego US. (A reason why GSM is widespread in Europe and adjoining countries while CDMA has a large penetration in US.)
  • Frequency: GSM: 850/900, 1800/1900Mhz. CDMA: 450 MHz for CDMA450.
  • Facilities/Benefits: Digital Communication, High security (encrypted calls, GSM was just recently hacked in 2010), Short Message Service (SMS), Effective use of bandwidth compared to previous generations.
  • Limitation/s: Digital communication is affected by weather conditions very severely than analog communication. Range is limited compared to 1G. Data rate (speed/Kbps) is too slow for modern era’s needs.
  • Availability: GSM: an estimated 4,927,613,300 (4.927 billion) connections were issued by the time I was writing this article. CDMA subscribers as of September 2010: 564,024,400.
  • Examples: GSM: Ufone, Telenor, Warid, Zong, Mobilink and SCOM. CDMA: VPTCL, WorldCall Wireless, GoCDMA.
  • Extended 2G Standards: GPRS,EDGE, CDMA1xRTT.

3G Networks:

OK, so here things get a little bit tricky. Simply put it as 3G networks were not Revolution but Evolution. 1G & 2G networks are completely different; it was like moving from a horse-cart to an automobile. This is not the case with 3G, consider 3G to be the advanced and improved form of already existing 2G standards.

These standards were improved significantly and thus the newly emerging ones were named Third Generation or 3G.

So if a company is using GSM as it’s 2G backbone (e.g. Telenor) to move to 3G it will have to use an improved form of the GSM standards and if a company was on CDMA (e.g. VPTCL) it will use an improved form of the CDMA standards for their network to be called 3G complaint.

Also, any mobile telecommunication service that fulfills the requirements of the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) can be classified as a 3G network/service.

  • Standards: UMTS (loosely based on GSM/EDGE), CDMA2000 (evolutionary upgrade to CDMAOne).
  • When? Around 2000 for CDMA2000 & 2002 for UMTS (official launch years by carriers).
  • Frequency: UMTS: (varies by carrier/region) 850/1900,1700,2100Mhz. CDMA2000: varies by operator/region.
  • Facilities/Benefits: Improved data rates allowing high speed downloads and desktop like web-browsing. 21Mbps for HSDPA (improved version of UMTS) and upto 14.1Mbps for EVDO Rev. B (a member of the CDMA2000 family).
  • Limitation/s: Actual download speeds can be less for power downloader.
  • Availability: Lot’s of countries around the world have moved to 3G even in our neighborhood India and Sri Lanka have UMTS/HSDPA deployed.
  • Examples: In Pakistan 3G facilities are provided by VPTCL & WorldCall in the form of PTCL Evo (which is EvDO Rev. A & B, a part of the CDMA2000 family) & Worldcall Wireless Broadband. Unfortunately 3G hasn’t been deployed yet by the GSM operators, means you can’t have it on your phone.
  • Extended 3G Standards: HSPA/HSPA+, EVDO Rev. A, EVDO Rev. B.

4G Networks:

For 4G technologies I will limit myself to LTE (Long Term Evolution) as it is going to be the replacement for both the UMTS and CDMA2000 based technologies in the future.

  • Technologies: LTE (loosely based on UMTS).
  • When? TeliaSonera 2009 & Verizon Wireless 2010.
  • Frequency: 700Mhz
  • Facilities/Benefits: 100mbps download speed & 50mbps upload. Also, it improves the efficiency of the network and reduces congestion (less dropped calls). At least 200 active users in each 5Mhz Cell (remember cell from cellular network?)
  • Limitation/s: Upgrade of infrastructure will be required.
  • Availability: Deployed in selected regions, more specifically selected cities. Two examples are given above.
  • Examples: Two companies (4M Wireless & WiChorus) are actively involved in the development of LTE based products in Pakistan but there’s absolutely no sign of it being deployed in the near future.


  • Faizan

    I think you missed WiMax as a grey area between 3G and 4G(perhaps 3G+).
    And honestly speaking,I dont think Pakistan NEEDS to adapt 3G as the user demand is not there,as long as we provide cheap sms rates everyone is happy :D
    And as far as mobile internet is concerned, people are happy having Wifi hotspots to use.

    • Rameez Kakakhel

      Yes you are right but WiMax was left our intentionally for the sake of clarity and general understanding. Some other things were left our too like Pagers as you can see the Article is already quite lengthy. It is expected that after getting a general understanding the readers will be ale to themselves differentiate between different technologies and if need pursue further research.

  • waqas

    we should directly switch to LTE (4G) it is better for industry and consumers

    • Shahid Saleem

      Great idea! But tell me, who makes cheap 4g phones?

      NO ONE

      Even Nokia has 3G phones for less than 10,000/=

      • Rameez Kakakhel

        What will you do with 12Mbps of download speeds on your 3.2in screen phone? Watch YouTube?
        .
        What are you going to do with 12Mbps of download speeds anytime, anywhere, everywhere on any device? That’s where cheap 4G modems come into play.
        .
        When you move a ahead in the Generation Game the focus shifts from telephony/MMS services to broadband penetration & services. Imagine the possibilities with 5 more high speed Internet connectivity providers in the market? :)

        • Shahid Saleem

          You misread me. I didn’t say we shouldn’t go to 4G, I just make fun of someone who says we should go directly to 4G. Who can afford to?

  • Noman

    Check this new amazing cell phone by Nokia
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2EX89akrtQ4

  • Asad

    Nice sum up of the historic evolutions of Wireless Communications

  • Sumair

    nice informative article……will help many people in clearing their minds………However i would like to point out 1 thing.

    LTE is not 4G, it’s 3.9G or pre 4G. LTE Advanced IS 4G. Similarly WiMax is also 3.9G or pre 4G, WiMax 2 IS 4G!! :)

    • Rameez Kakakhel

      Thanks!
      You are right but recently (December 2010) the ITU (Information Telecommunication Union) revised the definition and now LTE is 4G. Even HSPA+ can be called 4G by the new definition.
      .
      Link: http://bit.ly/faTWff

      • Faizan

        “Even HSPA+ can be called 4G by the new definition”

        LOL,exactly what Tmobile over at US is doing :D

        • Rameez Kakakhel

          hahaha! yeah… Well, that’s marketing.. Taking benefit of the softened definition and confusion ;)

  • teshinraza

    When Cartel of these Telecom companies will think that they earned enough from their investment then they will move towards 3G or 4G.Which is no where near.

  • Waqar Ali

    Hi,
    4G(LTE) is deployed in Australia and Norway, mainly in testing phase but USB dongles are available for commercial usage too. LTE advance is still in developmental phase, it’s deployment will be started by end of 2011.

  • babba

    ha ha ha , you said large penetration. lmao

  • Nauman Afzal

    A very informative article. And by the way, cellphones in Pakistan are more of a status symbol, all of us are carrying high-end 3G/4G sets which are pretty useless on our networks

    • Faizan

      +1
      But when talking about the masses, I think low-end,cheap phones with edge access should be the market nokia/Huawei/motorola is targeting now days.
      But still our main focus for telcos is sms rate war.