2G, 3G, 3.5G, 4G, 5G, 6G…cleaning the mobile telco standards mess

Following my post on WiMax, John from Toronto, Canada, asked me to write a little something about the different telecommunication standards available on cell phones as his son is about to open his own cellular phones shop in Toronto.

Well, John, we don’t know each other yet, but your e-mail was so nice and sweet that I don’t know how I could say no. On top of this, I’m always glad to make my readers happy, so if you’ve got any topic you’d like me to launch a discussion about here (provided it’s tech-related, …or not), feel free to email me.

So here’s the thing. I’m not going to delve into the technical details since you asked me not to (and I would’ve had to do some extra homework, so good for me), but rather examine concisely the point of each standard, starting with 1G.

  • 0G phones, standing for the 1st generation of mobile phones, were satellite phones developed for boats mainly – but anyone could get one in one’s car in the beginning of the 90s for several thousand dollars. Networks such as Iridium, Global Star and Eutelsat were truly worldwide (although for physical reasons, think of a satellite as a fixed point above the equator, some Northern parts of Scandinavia aren’t reachable), and everybody thought at that time that satellite phones would become mainstream products as soon as devices got smaller and cheaper. This vision proved wrong when the GSM concretely came to life in 1990/1991 in Finland.
  • 1G: Firstly, there were analog GSM systems, that existed for a few years. And then came the digital systems.
  • 2G: the second generation of mobile telecommunications still is the most widespread technology in the world; you’ve basically all heard of the GSM norm (GSM stands for Groupe Spécial Mobile in French, renamed in Global System for Mobility). The GSM operates in the 850Mhz. and 1900Mhz. bands in the US, & 900Mhz. and 1.8Mhz. bands in the rest of the world (eg did you know Bluetooth stands in the 2.4Ghz. area, just like your…microwave!? But that’s another story, not related to this article) and delivers data at the slow rate of 9.6 Kbytes/sec.
  • 2.5G: For that last reason (9.6 Kbytes/sec doesn’t allow you to browse the Net or up/download an image), telco operators came up with the GPRS (remember all the hype around the Wap) which could enable much faster communications (115Kbytes.sec). But the market decided it was still not enough compared to what they had at home.
  • 2.75G: EDGE (I just called it 2.75G, 2.5′s not the official or unofficial number at all), which is a pretty recent standard, allows for downloading faster. Since mobile devices have become both a TV and a ‘walkman’ or music player, people needed to be able to watch streaming video and download mp3 files faster – that’s precisely what EDGE allows for and that’s for the good news. The bad news is that if EDGE rocks at downloading, it’s protocol is asymmetrical hence making EDGE suck at uploading ie broadcasting videos of yours for instance. Still an interesting achievement thanks to which data packets can effectively reach 180kbytes/sec. EDGE is now widely being used.
  • 3G: also called UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications Standard). Aimed at enabling long expected videoconferencing, although nobody seems to actually use it (do you know any?). Its other name is 3GSM, which says literally that UMTS is 3 times better than GSM. One issue though: depending on the deployment level of the area you are in and your device, your phone will (have to be) handle(d) from the GSM network to the UMTS network, and conversely – making billing more complex to understand for the consumers. One of the major positive points of UMTS is its global roaming capabilities (roaming is the process that allows you, at a cost, to borrow bandwidth from a telco provider that’s not yours; you usually use roaming when calling from abroad).
  • 3.5G or 3G+: HSDPA is theoretically 6 times faster than UMTS (up to 3.6 Mbytes/sec)! Practically speaking, this would mean downloading an mp3 file would take about 30 secs instead of something like 2 minutes. Not bad, uh?
  • 4G: still a research lab standard, at least to my knowledge, that should combine the best of cellphone network technologies with WiMax, wireless Internet, voice over IP and IPv6 (a post about the latter soon). Data rates are expected to reach 100 Mbytes/sec.

So John, I hope this helps. I know it’s not detailed at all, but it should be enough at first to make your son’s cellphones shop potential customers understand what lies behind the different technologies. Even though you’re not an industrialist (ie working at a telco operator or a consumer electronic company building cellphones), I strongly recommend you watch what goes on in Asia in general (Japan, Singapore, Mauritius even though it’s in Africa, the Philippines, South Korea) and Finland on top of the US to get updates about what’s actually going onwhere it all happens in the mobile telecommunications industry.

20 people like this post.

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  1. kari says:

    Your short history is missing NMT, the predecessor to GSM, which was first generation cell phone technology first implemented in 1981. Was used mostly in Europe.

    2G also means CDMA in US. Incidentally CDMA is the basis for W-CDMA, which is used in UMTS.

    I think it’s also worth to mention that there are no “official” definitions for 1G, 2G, 3G… they’re just rough groupings of similar generation cell phone technology, which has enough acronyms to confuse pretty much everybody.

  2. Jeremy Fain says:

    Well Kari, that’s an excellent point! I thought about NMT but since John is in Toronto and his son needs help in devising his marketing descriptions, & NMT (Nordic Mobile Telecommunications) was mostly deployed in Scandinavia,

    I chose not to elaborate on it (of course I skipped many relevant details, but I wanted this post to be readable by anyone). I apologize to you and all hungry readers for not delving into details, but that was actually more a choice than a mistake.

  3. Chris Fleming says:

    I always though of 1G as the analogue precursor to GSM, but that’s just me.

    It’s also worth noting that “3G” – UMTS combines utilizes both the 2G network and the 3G network working together so for example rural area’s may only ever have GSM+Edge coverage , while residential suburbs will have 3G and city centres may have 3G+HSDPA

    Also technically 3G does not mean UMTS; there are other interfaces such as CDMA2000 (used in Japan, I think…)

  4. Jeremy Fain says:

    Hey Chris,

    Maybe you’re right about the analogue precursor to GSM and 1G – I’ll check this out. Anybody to help us on this matter?

    Excellent remarks on 3G. Many thanks.

  5. Lim C says:

    I would also say that 1G is related to the analog systems, 2G being digital systems.

    You should also map 2G, 2.5G to the “CDMA branch” with 1x, EV-DO,…

  6. Jeremy Fain says:

    Lim> Indeed, you’re right; but as I said, I didn’t want my blogpost to delve too much into details. In other words I felt I had to keep it simple.

    Robert> You’re most welcome! Why Finland?? Come on, ask your son. Finland is the homeland of Nokia, the leading telecommunication device manufacturer in the world.

  7. kari says:

    I think this picture explains why Finland gets mentioned many times when talking about cell phones, http://scuba.kapsi.fi/temp/SneakPictureOfAslidePresentedAtMotorola.JPG

  8. sud says:

    Can you please re-write ((sheepish grin :-) )the article with all teh coments incorporated

  9. Jeremy Fain says:


  10. Lyndon says:

    Hi, just to condirm on the 4G network. “Data rates are expected to reach 100 Mbytes/sec” Is mega bytes or mega bits.

    Just wanted to confirm. :)

  11. Charlette says:

    I saw your messages while searching for the information about using 3G/3.5G USB adapter. As my company is making this adapter to have data connection over mobile phone networks. I am in Taiwan, the 3G/3.5G adapter always bundled with telco operator, is it same in US/Canada ? Any comments to me how to sell this adapter to US/Canada ?

  12. [...] – Second, Korean scientists announced a new technology called “New Nomadic Local Area Wireless Access” that allows users of mobile phones to download data at a stunning 3,6 Gb/s rate – much more than what the “4G” technologies actually in the pipeline can offer. In fact Korea seems to be heading the race for the definition of the future 4G standard. (BTW, there is a highly valuable, landmark post about these mobile phone generations on Tech IT Easy : have a look). [...]

  13. Dave says:

    Beware of comparing data rate promises. WiFi (802.11) and WiMAX (802.16) proponents hyped numbers based on the peak physical layer bit rate. Actual throughput could not under any circumstances equal these numbers and real world throughput is dramatically lower. Cellular system data rates, whether it is 2, 2.5, 3 or 3+ G are quoted as fixed network user data rate (FNUR), which means basically it is the throughput you would see if you did a file transfer through the network. This may be breaking down a bit as the hype wars heat up for the various technologies that are lumped into the general category of “4G”. This includes the Long Term Evolution (LTE) of UMTS.

  14. Atul Khera says:

    HI Cool J,

    There was a discussion wit some of my friends and they told me that in Finland nokia has already deployed 5G equipments in testing mode and working on those standards. Also can u mail me something in detail for HSPDA. One more favour dude…. I wana know the difference between EV-DO and DV….Waiting for the reply.

  15. jnanendra says:

    the invention of 4G and so on has been great challenge for Rappoport. so publish your updated edition.

  16. Doug says:

    You mention 5G and 6G in your title but you don’t provide any information on those in your post. Don’t leave us hanging! :) Anyone have the dirt on those?

  17. KINZUNGULU says:

    je veux connaitre l’évolution dela technologie sans fil et toute les normes regissant ses fonctionnalité. car ;Aujourd’hui le réseau wireless a connu beaucoup d’évolution et de mutation. Si vous ignorez cette technogie de pointe égal à semi illetré.

    pour hypothèse Ir Henry .

  18. johnson akoh says:

    i want to know more about 3.5g system and the advantage over the previous generation evolution.thanks

  19. Ramonsan says:

    Can A Satellite from a down station in the Pacific (Asia) create a cost advantage cell phone like the i-phone rates in the U.S. World wide. Pan-am sat in the past had the idea but the land line phones companies jumped and said noway

    Can this happen on G4 OR 5

  20. pichiboochi says:

    thanks for the info -cheers-

  21. Pedo says:

    i see this misinformation everywhere, and no one cares to fix it:

    “The GSM operates in the 850Mhz. and 1900Mhz. bands in the US, & 900Mhz. and 1.8Mhz. bands in the rest of the world”

    850/1900 Mhz is in fact used in the USA, just like this article says. however, it is NOT the only place it is used. canada uses those frequencies also, and they are extensively used in latin america as well.

    please fix it!

  22. Mike says:

    I was in Japan a few months ago and I was told HTC Diamond was a 5G ready mobile device, but obviously the speed factor was not yet activated, but I hear it is as of today in limited use, so new applications can be added with this 2100 mega hertz microwave three band frequency which just went live today, so it is just a matter of time. This new company is called Buzzirk, and when someone mentioned Sweden, yes, I heard 5G compatible device is available there too, but not fully implemented.


  23. psycom says:

    Bad news on Buzzirk… they are a MLM scam. No products, lots of hype. Don't hold your breath on them coming out with anything. Long history of ZERO1 / Buzzerk … READ ON:

    A lot of hype is being thrown around out there on the internet about this company. I want to help prevent you from making the biggest mistake of your MLM career by giving you a little insight into this program.

    The first thing I want to say is NEVER get sucked into a program based off of an idea. A solid opportunity must fulfill ALL aspects in order to be secure. Having said that let me tell you a little about Global Verge.
    Global Verge was launched in 2008 by Mark Petschel. This same person was the founder of E-Verge which of course went out of business so he “re-launched” his company as Global Verge. A top leader in MLM who was a member of E-Verge and lost A LOT of people and money because of this guy and the E-Verge opportunity. This same CEO has a VERY sketchy past in business and in MLM. He was arrested in 2004 for Securities Fraud: http://stlouis.bizjournals.com/stlou…7/daily1… and has been the result of MANY MLM failures over the years. If you Google Mark Petschel with bizzbuzz, country club, goldenfairway, e-verge, you will see for yourself.

    Now, the excitement that Global Verge is riding on is the idea of this incredible new VOIP Wireless Phone service that is “destined to revolutionize the wireless industry.” The problem is no one has any idea about how this technology actually works because if they did they'd realize that what these people have is a great idea but one that has no chance of becoming a reality. Here is a link to a post on a forum where a VERIZON employee (calls himself “burty”) comments on this product. It's a lot of technical jargon but if you read you'll see that he basically says that it's impossible for these people to get this product to market: http://www.scam.com/showthread.php?t=118143&page=2.

    The key component that people are missing is that Global Verge is NOT the company supplying this product. Another company called Zero1 Mobile is. Some Global Verge reps are saying that they are “partners.” The problem with that is Zero1 has NO financial stake in Global Verge. They simply state in a press release that Global Verge will be one of the ways Zero1 markets its product. Did you catch that? ONE of the ways. That means, Global Verge is NOT an exclusive seller of this product. Let's assume the product does launch and it works – well then we'll be able to market it too, as will everyone else. But as you look at the technology you'll see that it's almost impossible. Their whole concept of the product is based on VOIP, wireless VOIP. On paper it sounds great but if you know anything about VOIP you know that it is NOT a perfect technology. VOIP barely works on land lines. Are you seriously telling me that they'll be able to make it work perfectly on a wireless product? Come back down to earth folks!

    Take a big step back and ask yourself: Why haven't the big boys (Verizon, ATT, etc) invested billions into this technology? Simple, for the same reason they haven't invested billions into Video Phone technology – the technology isn't there yet. Zero1's whole product is based on the wireless broadband network. Do you have a Blackberry?

    Smartphone? In order for VOIP to work you need a VERY high bandwidth. Wireless broadband is NOWHERE near Cable internet speed and if VOIP barely works with Cable what makes you think a MUCH slower WIRELESS connection? You are going to get dropped calls, delays, non-connections. The reason is because the speed of wireless internet doesn't have a high enough bandwidth to carry all the voice traffic.

    So, let me emphasize this again, Global Verge is NOT the company developing this product. They are NOT the company that controls the customer. They are only a marketing channel. That's the key thing to understand. Global Verge is paying your checks (or is supposed to be, we'll see if they actually do pay anyone). Zero1 or their parent company UTG have NOTHING to do financially with Global Verge! They are NOT backing them with funds. That means before you get all goo-goo over the product you need to take a real hard look at the MLM company you're joining.

    In my opinion there are 5 key aspects of the OVERALL SOLID/LEGIT opportunity. Let me break these down regarding Global Verge's opportunity (the company you'd be joining):

    1. The Company (GLOBAL VERGE). Some questions? Where's their headquarters? What is the address? How many employees? Where's the billing dept? Where are checks coming from? These are just a few basic questions that not a single Global Verge rep can answer for me. To me that's a HUGE red flag. What it means is that they have NO INFRASTRUCTURE at all to speak of. That's why all the hype is built around the idea of the product. Global Verge is using that “pre-launch” hype to fund their company. The track record of your CEO is also a MAJOR indicator of what to expect. Mark Petschel has NEVER ever created a successful company in any industry he's been in. According to research Mark originally created a parent company called “MVP Network/MVP Online” which created some MLM programs about a Country Club, online golf games, a company called BizzBuzz, etc. If you Google Mark Petschel with any of those terms you can read for yourself. Also, at the bottom of the page are a few links to some interesting reading regarding the CEO of Global Verge.

    So, they have a CEO that has a history of scam after scam. Pre-launch after pre-launch. And has yet to deliver. Folks, here's the reality. Even if Zero1 pulls off the launch of the product that means NOTHING if you don't have the infrastructure to make it work on the MLM side. Who's going to handle all the support questions? What about shipping? How about accounting? Global Verge has absolutely ZERO infrastructure and to me that is NOT the sign of a solid opportunity.

    2. The timing. Timing is critical right? It's powerful to be involved on the ground floor, right? Yes! But only if the infrastructure is there to back it up. The ground floor concept doesn't mean anything if the MLM company backing the opportunity can't follow suit. Unfortunately I know this from firsthand experience. The other concern is the timing with the product. While it can be very exciting to be part of something that is supposed to “revolutionize” an industry it's also very challenging. People have no idea if this will work or not. It hasn't really been tested in the open market. People “claim” to have seen it work but I have yet to actually speak to someone that is using it. The reason? Because no one really knows. It's all a bunch of hype and people just sitting around hoping it comes true. Just look at this video from November of 2007 (that's almost 2 YEARS AGO FOLKS) about the E-Verge launch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4nSA3X_JaO0. See if it sounds familiar! Hilarious!!!!

    3. The product. What product? There is no product. No one is using this technology. I'll refer to my comments above about Verizon, ATT, etc. Why aren't they going after this product if it's going to be mainstream? Think about that for a minute.

    4. The comp plan. Global Verge's comp plan is a Forced Matrix. This is the WORST MLM comp plan in the industry. There isn't a single MLM company that has lasted long term on this type of comp plan. Why is Global Verge using it? Because it allows them to create even more hype by telling prospects to “get in now to benefit from the spillover.” The problem with a forced matrix is it creates a giant team of a bunch of people doing NOTHING. People sitting around waiting for their upline to do all the work. In a forced matrix you can have reps that NEVER recruit a single person making money off your efforts. Are you kidding me? I'm sorry but there is no way I'd ever be involved where someone could make money just by joining. This is why these comp plans never last – there is no stability in it, at all!

    5. The proven system. All that Mark Petschel has proven is that he can create a lot of hype and how to launch MLM's over and over again. The end result is a lot of people getting sucked into something based on hype and emotion only to see nothing in return.

    .. ..
    The bottom-line is that we've seen this over and over and over again since Lightyear launched. First it was a company called LPC Global that promised satellite wireless technology that was going to “revolutionize” the industry. Of course they were in pre-launch for over a year pushing back the launch date 11 times and to this day have not launched or paid a commission. Then came Mark Petschel's own “E-Verge” with their “revolutionairy satellite wireless phones” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4nSA3X_JaO0 JOKE!!!!). Where are they today? Oh that's right, gone, done, no longer E-Verge. Then it was EDT International. They were going to offer unlimited wireless, data, text anywhere in the U.S. on the ATT network for $45 a month. Of course ATT doesn't offer that but EDT was going to “revolutionize” the wireless industry. Well, they are approaching 12 months in pre-launch as well. No phones being used. No commissions being paid.

    Now comes Global Verge with this revolutionary wireless product from Zero1 – destined to “revolutionize” the wireless industry. Unlimited everything for half what you can get it in other places. Hmm, sound familiar.

    Listen, I'll admit, absolutely the concept of the product sounds great! And in 10 years it might even be a reality but I'm sorry folks, I'm not about to risk my reputation or my LY business on a possibility – especially based on the research I've done on the backers of Global Verge. Let me say this again, the backers of Zero1 and Bizzirk mobile have NOTHING at all to do with Global Verge. You aren't joining those companies. Those companies aren't paying your checks. It's Global Verge that is selling you the MLM opportunity. If I were you I would be VERY careful and make sure you do your research. DO NOT get hyped in by the idea of the product.

    ….Some helpful sites to look over:

    http://www.globalverge.com (look at the poor design of the site. Where's the corporate address? Where's the details on the company? How about a contact phone number? Hello!!!!!!)

    http://www.nuskyway.com/files/nuskyw…ement-tm… (a link to yet ANOTHER failed pre-launch by MVP Network/Mark Petschel – you starting to get the point?????)
    http://www.scam.com/showthread.php?t=11752 (thread about BizzBuzz scam. Hmmm, what happened to that one?)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4nSA3X_JaO0 (what happened to E-Verge? Oh that's right, they decided it didn't work so they needed to create a new pre-launch). Funny how in the video they say that “experts predict E-Verge to be a Billion dollar company in 18 months. Well, the video was from November of 2007 and now it's the end of June 2009. Umm, if my math is correct that's about 19 months. How's the E-Verge thing going? Oh wait, I'm sorry, it was all a lie and a bunch of hype. Too bad for all those thousands that got sucked in before.

    http://riseall.sampa.com/alison/blog…cellular… (This is my point exactly folks. Look at the “revolutionairy” service that was supposed to launch 2 years ago)
    You are all adults and are free to do what you want but I'll sit back and watch this unfold a bit first.

    • Marwan says:

      You are mistaken with your judgement of VOIP quality and clarity. I used Vonage and Comcast and they worked respectively well, the switch was made solely because Comcast didn't talk 'nicely' to the Vonage box and would intermittently drop calls. Majority of the calls were pretty clear, my calls overseas sounded just fine.____I used VOIP for a period of almost 2 years, now I am back to a regular land-line simply because of the price.____

  24. ayu says:

    I just wanted to add something, like that sort of Kari, mobile communication technology is already developed and widely used in the early 1980s, including C-NET system developed in Germany and Portugal by Siemens, RC-2000 system which was developed in France, the system NMT is developed in the Netherlands and Scandinavia by Ericsson, as well as TACS system which operates in the UK. However, analog technology is still used to make the system so that the regional nature of the state system with the other one was not compatible to each other and cause the user mobility is limited to a particular area of technology systems only (not roaming between countries).

  25. fulldizi says:

    Listen, I'll admit, absolutely the concept of the product sounds great! And in 10 years it might even be a reality but I'm sorry folks, I'm not about to risk my reputation or my LY business on a possibility – especially based on the research I've done on the backers of Global Verge. Let me say this again, the backers of Zero1 and Bizzirk mobile have NOTHING at all to do with Global Verge. You aren't joining those companies. Those companies aren't paying your checks. It's Global Verge that is selling you the MLM opportunity. If I were you I would be VERY careful and make sure you do your research. DO NOT get hyped in by the idea of the product.

  26. adamfreeman29 says:

    Thanks for this beautiful piece of advice. This really helps one who wants to open a new mobile phone shop. Giving the difference about every mobile phone technology is really helpful and advisable for the mobile phone business starters. So, once again thank you for sharing this idea.

  27. Fong Wei Bin says:


    • kari says:

      Hi and thanks for your comment. We strive for accuracy at this blog and the author had in fact mixed up the units and they should be bits instead of bytes. We sincerely hope this confusion did not totally ruin your assignment.

      The actual theoretical data transfer rates should be:
      0G: Size of data packet was limited by what your carrier pigeon could handle
      1G: Depends if you used 1st or 2nd class stamp.
      2G: 9.6 kbits/s or so.
      2.5G (GPRS): 56 – 114 kbits/s.
      2.75G (EDGE): up to 560 kbit/s
      3G (UMTS): up to 2 Mbit/s
      3.5G (HSDPA): 1.8 – 14.4 Mbit/s
      4G: Whatever the marketing department dreamed up last night.

      Tech IT Easy regrets the error.

    • Lmao- -Sent from a phone, so apologies for any spelling mistakes.