The evolution of Mobile Technology: from 1G to 6G

The evolution of Mobile Technology: From 1G to 6G

Jonas Hultenius, Software Architecht at Sogeti and one of our global experts in SogetiLabs writes about mobile technology and 6G. Read his blog here to find out more.

The story of the mobile phone, and more generally mobile technology, is a saga of change and transformation. Our phones have transformed from the heavy and bulky “brick” phones of the 1980s to the thin, sleek and pocket-sized supercomputers we carry with us everywhere today.

This evolution spans several generations of mobile networks (1G to 6G) and has fundamentally reshaped how we connect with each other and the world around us. It has changed how we consume information, where we work and how we navigate the world. It’s a story not just about the technological advancements in themselves but about the profound impact these technologies have had on modern life and how it keeps forming and reforming our futures.

It all started with the first generation of mobile networks, or 1G, as it started to emerge in the early 1980s. The first commercial network was launched as early as in 1979 in Japan by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT) and initially only covered the metropolitan area of Tokyo. Five years later the network had gone nationwide. The rest of the world was quick to follow, with Sweden and Norway launching networks as early as 1981. These networks were quite straightforward and based on analog technology but offered a revolutionary leap forward: the ability to make phone calls on the go.

Try to imagine a world where you weren’t tethered to a landline, where communication could happen from anywhere with a signal. Today it seems mundane but forty years ago this was a dream that just became reality. The technology, while bulky and limited to voice calls, laid the foundation for the mobile revolution to come.

To be fair, there were mobile phones and mobile networks of sorts before, going back to the late 1940s, but they never saw a wide adoption beyond a small number of car-mounted systems. So, to draw the line somewhere we’ll have to skip this precursor, 0G, and focus on the tech we all know and some of us, love.

Building on the humble beginnings of the eighties, the nineties offered us everything and more as the second generation, 2G, took the leap into digital.

It was first commercially launched using the GSM standard in Finland by Radiolinja in 1991, and the rest of the world was not late to follow.

This shift to digital brought with it several improvements like clearer voice calls, the ability to send SMS text messages, and the introduction of rudimentary data services.
2G paved the way for the concept of mobile messaging, allowing for quick and convenient communication beyond voice calls. The first ever SMS was sent in December 1992 and the message was short and simple, “Merry Christmas”.

The networks data transfer speeds were lackluster. But techniques like SMS and MMS planted the seeds for the mobile internet revolution that would unfold in the years to come. It also improved on one of the previous generation’s largest shortcomings, the lack of security. From the 2G era and forward phone calls would be encrypted.

With the arrival of the first 3G networks in the early 2000s the mobile internet revolution was truly ignited. With significantly faster data speeds 3G enabled users to access email, browse the web, and download multimedia content on their mobile devices. While earlier networks supported data transfer, the capabilities were far from what we have today. This era also saw the rise of mobile apps, something we often take for granted these days, allowing users to access information, entertainment, and services on the go in a formfactor devoid of the normal browser experience. Shortly thereafter social media platforms began to sprout up and flourishing and fostering a new era of online connection and communication. When everything and everyone became accessible from everywhere.

With our newfound love for mobile internet access the next era was a given. The introduction of 4G networks in the 2010s represented a quantum leap in mobile data speeds. This era saw an explosion of video streaming, online gaming, and bandwidth-intensive applications hit the market.

With the rollout of 4G, mobile devices became not just communication tools but powerful entertainment and productivity hubs. The ability to stream high-definition content, participate in video conferencing and access cloud-based services transformed the way we work, learn, and play. We were finally free to roam, even though roaming charges still kept us in check.

This evolution continued on into the fifth era, 5G, that started to roll out in 2019 in South Korea. The bandwidth was incomparable to previous generations, with a theoretical maximum more than 20 times higher than 4G’s and latency well below 2 ms (compared to 4G’s 20-60ms). 5G is also more effective and allows for a higher density of devices per network node, up to ten times more than its predecessor. This ushered in a new possibility, yet another era, the age of the internet of things. With high speed and low latency, devices and humans alike can operate and communicate from everywhere and information can flow through the system like water. This flood of data then powers other processes and possibilities, like the smart cities that we see started taking shape and a whole new level of automation not thought to be possible before.

So, what is over the futures horizon?

While 5G continues to dominate the mobile landscape today, the future beckons with the promise of 6G networks. Expected to be operational by the 2030s 6G promises even faster data speeds, ultra-low latency with response time in the sub millisecond range and the ability to connect a massive number of devices even more than that of 5G networks.
This interconnected world will see devices seamlessly communicating with each other, enabling further advancements in areas like smart cities, autonomous vehicles, and telemedicine. The Internet of Things is here to stay, but with all of the potential of an even faster solution, new ideas have started to emerge. We’ll delve deeper into these ideas in a dedicated blog post, or this discussion could go on endlessly.
To sum things up, the evolution of mobile technology has had a profound impact on every aspect of modern life. Mobile technology has revolutionized the way we connect with each other. From instant messaging to video calls, we can now communicate with anyone, anywhere in the world, in real-time. Mobile devices have also become portals to a world of information. With a few taps, we can access news, research topics, and learn new skills as well as giving us access to endless entertainment, e-commers and the tools to let us do our work from anywhere on the globe.
Our lives will never be the same and the transformation saga continues. We are in the middle of an era, or chapter if you will, but there is another one just around the corner. That holds the power to once more transform our world at its core.

  • Jonas Hultenius
    Jonas Hultenius
    Software Architect & SogetiLabs Fellow, Sogeti Sweden
    070-518 66 25

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