From 1G to 5G: The Evolution of Mobile Communication Networks
Dr. Aysha S Hameed August 31, 2023

The journey of wireless telecommunication from 1G to 5G and onward has continuously evolved during the past few years. Here, we will walk through the five generations of mobile networks, from the first to the fifth generation.

Let us explore more about 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G networks and see how each standard evolved to provide customers better value and service.

1G – A Brief Account of First-Generation System

1G laid the foundation and opened the door to wireless telephone communication before us. It used analog technology, was limited to voice calls, and offered a maximum speed of 2.4 kbps. During 1G, cell phones were big, heavy, and expensive. Also, battery drainage and poor voice quality were other limitations.

2G – Second-generation Communication System (GSM)

The Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), the second generation (2G) standard developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI), is based on Time Division Multiple Access (TDMA).

The 2G mobile phones used digital modulation and enabled a maximum speed of 14.4 kbps. Voice calls and SMS were supported, and mobile phones got smaller and more secure.

2.5G and 2.75G Communication System

The transition from 2G to 2.5G marked an advancement in mobile communication technology, where enhancements were introduced to the existing 2G networks.

Also, 2.5G represented a notable shift from primarily catering to voice communication in 2G, as it integrated packet-switched data services, enabling basic internet usage and data applications alongside traditional circuit-switched voice services. Further, in 2.5G GPRS, the subscriber data transfer rates got enhanced up to 171 kbps.

EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) or 2.75G is an enhancement of GPRS for data transmission. Also, it works on GSM networks, an extension of GPRS and allows for speeds up to 384 kbps.


3G – Third-generation Communication System 

Later, second-generation (2G) cellular technology evolved into third-generation (3G) cellular technology based on the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS). Furthermore, this technology changed the primary focus from voice and text to mobile data.

The advent of 3G networks in the first decade of the century paved the foundation for high-speed internet and wireless applications. Further, it resulted in a digitally powered era in communications.

UMTS is a third-generation cellular technology. It allows 2G GSM networks to migrate to 3G. UMTS uses Wideband CDMA (WCDMA) for its radio interface. Further, it enables peak download data rates of up to 2 Mbps and average download speeds of around 384 kbps.

Also, 3G paved the way for video call and streaming services. With the latest enhancements in High-Speed Packet Access (HSPA and HSPA+), UMTS networks can enable peak data rates of up to 71.6 Mbps.

Also read: How Can Telecom Industries Enhance Transformation With Digital Twin Technology?

How Does the 3G UMTS Network Function?

The User Equipment (UE) includes two components such as, 

  1. i) Mobile equipment and
  2. ii) Universal Subscriber Identity Module (USIM)

Using the Air interface, the User Equipment connects to the UTRAN (Universal Terrestrial Radio Access Network). UTRAN consists of Node Bs and RNCs, and each RNC (Radio Network Controller) manages multiple Node Bs. In UMTS, there exists a circuit-switched core and a packet-switched core.

In the circuit-switched core, the Mobile Switching Center (MSC) is responsible for voice calls, delivering text messages and tracking down mobile locations.

Gateway MSC (GMSC) offers the connection to other service providers (mobile or fixed). The Home Location Register (HLR) keeps a repository of all the subscribers belonging to a service provider.

The Serving GPRS Support Node (SGSN) in the packet-switched core manages the data connection between the mobile and the Packet Data Network. It also tracks the location of the mobile for data services.

The Gateway GPRS Support Node (GGSN) provides the connection to external data networks. Also, it is an anchor point as the user moves to a different SGSN due to mobility.3G network architecture3G network architecture abbreviated terms

How is 4G Different from 3G?

4G was commercially deployed in 2009. The 3G network only uses IP for data, enabling voice with a circuit-switched network. On the other hand, 4G is an all-IP-based standard for both voice and data. For this reason, 4G is more efficient for mobile network providers to operate and optimize instead of managing different network technologies for data and voice.

There are two flavors of 4G – LTE and  WiMax.

The Long Term Evolution (LTE) is fully packet-switched, which uses Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDMA). LTE is designed to provide connectivity between a user’s equipment and a Packet Data network with a data rate of up to 100 Mbps. LTE Advanced (LTEA) is an enhancement that improves the original LTE technology and could deliver up to 1000 Mbps. In addition, LTE supports VoIP, video conferencing, HD Mobile TV, online gaming, mobile broadband and mobile apps.

The key components include the E-UTRAN and the Evolved Packet Core (EPC), collectively forming the LTE network. The evolved NODE B (eNodeB) manages scheduling, handovers and security. The Serving gateway(S-GW) handles mobility between E-UTRAN and EPC.

The PDN Gateway (P-GW) connects the EPC to the Packet Data Network. The controlling entity is the Mobility Management Entity (MME), which tracks the location of UE. Also, it is responsible for session management. The HSS is the central repository of subscriber information.

4G Architecture4G mobile network architecture

The 4G also includes Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (WiMax), an Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) standard (IEEE 802.16). WiMax and LTE use advanced antenna technology to enhance performance and reception. However, each uses different parts of the wireless spectrum.

5G – Fifth-generation Communication System

5G network is not just about providing huge data rates. It can create an adaptive, flexible network that can connect virtually everything, including machines, objects and devices. Also, it can provide different features to different customers with many potential and possibilities.

The Radio Access Network belonging to 5G is known as New Radio (NR). The connectivity of 5G NR to a 5G core network is provided by Standalone architecture. The network architecture, known as Non-Standalone architecture, is based on tight interworking with LTE and NR, allowing a smooth evolution towards an end-to-end 5G system.

What Makes 5G Exciting?

The 5G NR technology, including millimeter wave (mmWave) and massive Multiple-Input Multiple-Output (MIMO) with beamforming, enables a network to deliver very high speed, reduced low latency and more data capacity.

The peak data rate of the network for the download link is 20 Gbps and 10 Gbps for uplink and offers a latency of less than 1 millisecond. The new use cases of 5G networks include enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), ultra Reliable Low Latency Communication (uRLLC)and mMTC massive Machine Type Communication (mMTC).

As traffic volume increases exponentially, eMBB can deliver speeds in multi-Gbps peak data rates much faster than its previous generation. With uRLCC, latency can be minimal for applications like self-driving cars. In such cases, the response time can make much difference, facilitating decisions in real-time. Further, it is easy to connect Many smart devices to the network for an extended period, and mMTC delivers a network capable of handling this type of demand.

5G Network Architecture

5G network architecture

Access and Mobility Function (AMF) knows the cell or tracking area where the subscriber is located. AMF ensures that the subscriber is allowed on the network and authenticates the subscriber. Also, AMF allocates the user equipment with a Globally Unique Temporary ID (GUTI) during mobility and periodic updates.

The Session Management Function (SMF) is responsible for the user equipment’s session management and IP address allocation. Directions based on decisions related to creating, modifying or terminating a session to the UPF are given.

SMF liaisons with PCF for policy and QoS enforcement. Also, SMF performs the selection and control of UPF.

Unified Data Management (UDM) stores subscriber profiles and data network profiles.

User Plane Function (UPF) is responsible for processing and forwarding data. If the user moves from one g-Node B to another, the traffic continues on the same connected UPF.

Based on the rules from SMF, UPF ensures the quality of service. Packet Data Unit (PDU) sessions provide connectivity between the device and the Data Network. Quality of service (QoS) flow within a PDU session offers different QoS levels for different services.

The Policy Control Function (PCF) takes dynamic decisions based on network conditions. Hence, it decides the correct resource allocation for a user to access a particular service.

Read more: An Introduction To Dynamic Multipoint Virtual Private Network (DMVPN)

ThinkPalm’s 5G Services

ThinkPalm helps you redefine your business process and helps you adopt innovative communications technology. We boast a world-class testing lab that features Spirent and Ixia devices, research and development for identifying opportunities in software-defined network (SDN)/ Network functions virtualization (NFV), Software-defined Wide Area Networks (SD-WAN) to incorporate the advanced technologies while offering services to our clients. 

Thus, you can rely on ThinkPalm’s 5G services in communications, network and product engineering, designed to provide advanced and unique services. Also, keep track of the performance of your 5G network consistently using fail-safe testing devices.

Closing Remarks

Wireless technology has been evolving all through these years to meet the ever-increasing demands. The vision for 6G technology lists record-breaking data transfer speeds, lower latency and improved security. Additionally, it aims at enhanced machine-to-machine (M2M) communication and advanced features such as holographic communications and AI-powered networks.


Author Bio

Dr. Aysha S Hameed is a networking and embedded systems professional working at ThinkPalm Technologies, who aspires to work in cutting edge technologies and is interested in new areas of research. She has a strong background in guidance and control algorithms, as well as expertise in programming in C and MATLAB.