From 1G to 5G and beyond: what changes with each “G”?

While Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the country’s first 5G testbed on May 17 to help the industry validate its products locally, he also set a target for India to roll out 6G services by the end of this decade. From the first generation (1G) to the fifth, each generation of telecommunications technologies has sought to improve the way humans interact with each other and with the world around them. This is what has changed with each “G” (generation) and what the future holds.

From 1G to 2G: The Big Leap

Launched in the late 1970s in Japan, 1G was the first generation of mobile telecommunications technology that only offered voice calls. But it came with low sound quality, poor coverage, and no roaming support whatsoever.

The major leap for telecommunications technology of this era occurred in 1991 with the introduction of 2G. Analog signals from 1G became completely digital in the second generation.

Apart from introducing CDMA and GSM concepts, it allowed users to roam and offered small data services such as SMS and MMS at a maximum speed of around 50 kbps. While the focus was still on voice calls, data support was introduced.

2G continues to be popular in India even though it is being phased out in many parts of the world. Jio, a major service provider in the country, last year set a goal of “2G-mukt Bharat” – to “unleash 300 million subscribers still trapped in the 2G era”.

The 3G revolution

Mobile technology has kept its date with a generational leap every decade with the introduction of 3G services in 2001. It promised four times faster data transmission with mobile internet access. This is the generation that brought e-mail, navigation maps, video calls, web browsing and music to mobile phones.

It was also during this generation that BlackBerry phones came into fashion, and later Steve Jobs introduced the world to the App Store with the launch of the iPhone 3G in 2008. More than a decade later, we talk about Apple which could abandon the 3G of its devices in the next two years.

The world in 4G

High-speed, high-quality, high-capacity voice and data services – that’s the promise that 4G, the network most of us use today, brought around 2010. Standard 4G offered speeds five to seven times faster than 3G.

Compared to 3G, a phone on a 4G network got faster response to its queries (lower latency). This is what made our phones portable computing devices.

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The 5G promise

Hailed as the new frontier of mobile technology, 5G promises latency (the delay users experience when data travels back and forth) of just one millisecond compared to 50 milliseconds for a 4G network. According to MIT Technology Review, the devices will have low power consumption which will increase the battery life of the devices several times.

But 5G should be about more than just faster download speeds. With increased cellular bandwidth, blazing speed and low latency, it promises to power the “Internet of Things” by making it easier for multiple devices to connect with each other to communicate and be controlled remotely.

A 5G world of the future is expected to have smart city infrastructure, self-driving cars and robotic surgeries as real use cases. 5G is being rolled out in many places, including South Korea, the United States and Canada, and is expected to arrive in India soon.

In addition, the technological strength of this new generation has already pitted major world powers against each other in the race for advantage.

A comparison of key performance requirements between 6G and 5G (Source: Samsung 6G White Paper)

Future Gs

Not a working technology yet, 6G only promises to do better than 5G. But then, “future Gs” won’t just be about your phone.

Experts envision a lag-free communication network, where it will be possible to seamlessly perform remote surgery and even broadcast live sporting events using hologram technology. In a 2020 6G white paper (“The Next Hyper-connected Experience for All”), Samsung said it expects “completion of the 6G standard and its first commercialization date could be as early as 2028, while mass commercialization could occur around 2030”.

“Humans and machines will be the main users of 6G, and 6G will be characterized by providing advanced services such as truly immersive extended reality (XR), high-fidelity mobile hologram and digital replica,” said- he declared.

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India’s 5G testbed and 6G goal

On Tuesday, the PM launched India’s first developed 5G testbed at a price of Rs 220 crore. It will allow start-ups and industry players to test their products and prepare them for 5G. Until now, this test was only possible abroad.

The test bed is a collaborative project involving eight institutions led by IIT-Madras. At the launch, Modi said India plans to roll out 6G by 2030 and a task force is working towards that direction. “Connectivity will determine the pace of progress in 21st century India,” he said.

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