Let's talk about the evolution of mobile phone technology

NEW: Mathew Dickerson says Australian's should embrace the latest mobile standards
NEW: Mathew Dickerson says Australian's should embrace the latest mobile standards

2G, or not 2G: that is the question: Whether 'tis worthier to the mind or to suffer through 5G. Unlike poor Hamlet, I have not lost my mind but there is a lot of confusion with the various levels of 'G' that are quoted by telecommunication providers, and to confuse us all further, Huawei has announced they are researching 6G.

I thought it worthwhile to give a very brief overview of the various generations of mobile phone technology to better understand how 5G fits into our landscape.

Australia had a very early '007' mobile service that was launched in August 1981. It is often referred to as 0G as it was not a true cellular mobile system. It operated in the 500MHz band and was shut down by 1993.

Mobile phone technology came of age in February 1987 when the analogue cellular system (AMPS) was launched with handheld mobiles. This system is typically referred to as 1G and was a true cellular system with frequency re-use. It operated in the 850MHz range. This network was closed in 2000.

By the time 2G arrived in 1993, less than 4 per cent of the Australian population had an analogue mobile. 2G increased security and, after the first SMS had been sent the previous year, introduced Australians to text messages. 2G was typically referred to as GSM but some countries (including Australia) also had CDMA to deliver additional coverage.

CDMA lived a short life - 1999 to 2008. 2G typically operated around the 900MHz range and later the 1,800MHz band. 2G also introduced data with GPRS and EDGE at theoretical maximum speeds of 0.384Mb/s. 2G was largely shut down in 2016.

3G was introduced in 2003 and saw the dawn of mobile broadband with significantly better data speeds, up to 7.2Mb/s. 3G operated in the 850MHz and 2100MHz ranges. My estimation is that 3G will be completely shut down in Australia by 2023.

4G kicked off in Australia in 2014. Why? Three reasons. Speed, speed and speed. With greater data demands from users of smartphones and other mobile devices, the network needed to deliver. 4G has theoretical maximum speeds up to 1,000Mb/s.

To give you some idea of the workload placed on modern carriers, in one month Telstra alone connects 500 million calls, sends 50 million text messages and carries 50 petabytes of data. 4G operates across a number of frequencies from 700MHz through to 2,600MHz.

Which brings us to 5G. Recently introduced in Australia it is currently only available in ten cities. The demand for 5G is not only driven by the need for speed but the need to be connected to, well, everything. 5G will have a theoretical speed of 10,000Mb/s but, more importantly, it will have reduced latency (more than five times better than 4G) and will allow significantly more simultaneous connections. The combination opens up a whole new world of Internet of Things (IoT) devices that will explode onto the market. 5G will initially operate in the 3,500MHz frequency range but in future years will operate up to 28,000MHz (28GHz).

This is significantly higher than all of the other generations of mobile technology but radio waves are non-ionising waves and, forty-six years after Dr Martin Cooper made the first phone call from a mobile, we are still yet to see any negative health effects from radiation caused by mobiles.

Tell me if you are excited about the advent of the 5G network at ask@techtalk.digital.

  • Mathew Dickerson is the founder of regional tech and communications company Axxis Technology.