The development of mobile communication can be described in the form of "mobile radio generations". Each generation is identified by a particular technology. The count is usually started with "2G". The development of mobile telephony in today's sense began with 2G. But even before there were already mobile networks - first the analogue B- and C-networks and the somewhat more widespread D-network. These analogue networks could from today's perspective be referred to as networks of the first generation.
2G - GSM
GSM was the first mobile phone technology to transmit voice digitally. GSM was introduced in 1993 and replaced the former analogue networks. GSM devices were able to transmit data as well as voice. This very slow data transfer was originally connection-oriented; the behavior of a switched-line modem was simulated. Also, the mobile transmission of fax was possible. GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), a service within GSM, enabled the transmission of packet-oriented data for the first time since 1999.
Today, the use of GSM is continuously decreasing. Newer technologies allow for voice with better quality and higher speed data. Nevertheless, GSM is still important today. The GSM networks still have the highest range, GSM continues to be available almost worldwide and can therefore be used for roaming. In addition, a large number of simple devices (e.g. vending machines, vehicles) use GSM for machine-to-machine (M2M) communication.
GSM uses the 900 and 1800 MHz bands in Europe. However, these bands are no longer exclusive to GSM, but rather GSM is sharing these bands with more advanced technologies, reducing the radio bandwidth available to GSM over time.
The abbreviation GSM was originally the name of the working group for the standardization of the technology (GSM - Groupe Spécial Mobile). Later GSM was declared the abbreviation for "Global System for Mobile Communications".
3G - UMTS
The initial expectations for the 3rd generation UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) technology were high, as is often the case when new technologies are introduced. 3G should enable video telephony and fast data transfer. However the expectations in 3G video telephony were not fulfilled. This may have been due to the low data rate (64kbps) as well as low initial device quality and density. Even the data transmission with initially only about 144kbps did not meet the requirements of mobile broadband. The situation changed only with the introduction of HSPA (High Speed Packet Access). This multi-step improvement in 3G enabled data rates of up to approximately 30 Mbps in the downlink and approximately 5 Mbps in the uplink. This created the broadband technology necessary for smartphones (from around 2008 on), the basis for a fundamental change in the use of the Internet.
UMTS was introduced from around 2001 in the 2100 MHz band. Today, this band is increasingly used for LTE (see below), 3G is also used today in the 900 MHz band. This achieves a high range comparable with GSM.
4G - LTE
The (late) success of 3G led to the question of how mobile communications could be further improved. A study titled "Long Term Evolution (LTE)" ultimately led to the standardization of the 4th generation of mobile telephony. The goals were higher spectral efficiency, higher peak data rates and lower latency. The network was designed for packet-oriented data transmission, so that voice telephony could only be introduced significantly later as VoLTE (Voice over LTE). The Code Division Multiple Access (CMDA) technology - a key element of 3G was replaced by OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing). The result was a system that enables fast, low-latency data transfer. The frequency channels are up to 20 MHz wide, several frequency channels, even in different frequency bands can be combined (CA, carrier aggregation). Today's mobile terminals allow data rates of over 1Gbps. Of course, these data rates require aggregation of a variety of 20 MHz channels and very good coverage. However even in practice, data rates of over 100 Mbps are easily achievable.
5G - NR
While 4G was a great success, it is a technology more than 10 years old. NR (new radio) was developed as the fifth generation. NR should enable higher data rates, lower delay and higher efficiency (i.e. lower power consumption) compared to LTE.
New technologies can either replace existing technologies (refarming of existing mobile radio frequencies) or use new mobile radio bands. While UMTS was introduced in the 2100 MHz band, LTE in the 2600 MHz and 800 MHz bands, NR will be introduced in the 3400 MHz band and in the 700 MHz band. In addition, existing bands can be used for NR - as today the 900 MHz band is not (only) used for GSM, but also for LTE and UMTS.
In the past, mobile radio used frequencies in the range of several hundred MHz to a few GHz. NR wants to go beyond that and also use significantly higher frequencies, albeit with significantly lower ranges. In Europe, the 26 GHz band is available in this regard.
Information about 5G can also be found on the website of the BMVIT.
A cartoon by the French regulator ARCEP thematizes net neutrality in the light of 5G.