Mobile communications explained: GSM 2G, GPRS, UTMS 3G, LTE 4G, 5G - what do these abbreviations mean?

GSM, GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSPA, HSPA +, LTE Advanced Pro, 5G, 4G, 3G, comparison, table, data rate, upstream, downstream, download speed

Mobile communications are part of everyday life, but most of them don't really know what is behind the mobile communications abbreviations GSM, GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSPA, LTE and the abbreviations 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G. Sometimes you see the LTE or the E for EDGE in the info bar of the smartphone and know roughly that you can now surf the Internet quickly or not that fast. But what exactly is behind these abbreviations; what technologies, specifications and data rates are behind 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G? Here you can find a little introduction to the topic.

Cellular standard, generations, history, mobile telephony, mobile data transmission GSM, GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSPA, LTE 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G data rates comparison

A brief historical summary of the topic of cellular communications

In order to refer to the abbreviations of mobile communications standards mentioned above, I would like to briefly go into the general history of mobile communications, especially mobile telephony. Because the mobile use of telephones in the private sector is not a phenomenon of the 1990s, but goes back (in Germany) to the 1950s. To make it really short, here is a brief overview:

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  • In 1958, the A-Netz was the first mobile network to be introduced in Germany (hand-switched)
  • 1972 started the B-Netz in the FRG, which was in operation until 1995 (analog, self-dialing)
  • In 1986 a system similar to the American AMPS came up with the C network (analog; until 2000)
  • In 1992, Telekom's D network (digital, GSM), which is still in operation today, but has been restructured again and again, started
  • In 1993 E-Plus built the E-Netz, which today belongs to Telefónica / to o2 (digital, GSM)
  • After the GSM standard, there were always new, market-adapted and market-shaping mobile radio standards

Important when classifying terms and structures: a cellular network (D, D2, E, ...) is made up of different radio bands (mostly in the MHz range). The respective technologies / standards / generations are then implemented on individual bands.

Mobile telephony, cellular communications and the technologies behind them: 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G

The above-mentioned AMPS (Advanced Mobile Phone Service) or its digital further development D-AMPS formed the first generation of mobile communications. Thus, this technology, which (in America) radioed on 800 MHz (in Europe as TACS on 900 MHz) bands, can be classified as the first generation; the abbreviation would therefore be 1G. This also explains the abbreviations 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G - they are the different generations of mobile communications, mobile telephony and data exchange "Over the Air" (OTA).

And here, too, you shouldn't have to laboriously pick the corresponding explanations from a running text. I have put together a clear table for the individual cellular technologies for you.

The individual standards and the data rates or speeds in downstream and upstream:

designation Abbreviation / s Max. Down speed Max. Up speed
Advanced mobile phone service AMPS, 1G - -
Global System for Mobile Communications GSM, 2G 14,4 kbit / s 14,4 kbit / s
High speed circuit switched data HSCSD, 2.5G 14,4 to 43,2 kBit / s (depending on the bundling) 14,4 to 43,2 kBit / s (depending on the bundling)
General Packet Radio Service GPRS, 2.5G 53,6 kbit / s 26,8 kbit / s
Enhanced Data Rate for GSM Evolution EDGE, 2.75G 217,6 kbit / s 108,8 kbit / s
Universal Mobile Telecommunication Service UMTS, 3G 384 kbit / s 128 kbit / s
High speed packet access HSPA, 3.5G 7,2 MBit / s 3,6 MBit / s
High Speed ​​Packet Access Plus

Release 6

HSPA +, 3.5G 14.4 MBit / s 5,76 MBit / s
High Speed ​​Packet Access Plus

Release 7

HSPA +, 3.5G 21,1 or 28 Mbit / s (depending on the frequency band) 11,5 MBit / s
High Speed ​​Packet Access Plus

Release 8

HSPA +, 3.5G 42 MBit / s 11,5 MBit / s
High Speed ​​Packet Access Plus

Release 9

HSPA +, 3.5G 84,4 MBit / s 11,5 MBit / s
High Speed ​​Packet Access Plus

Release 10

HSPA +, 3.5G 168,8 MBit / s 23 MBit / s
Long Term Evolution LTE (Cat 1 - Cat 4), 3.9G 100 to 300 Mbit / s 50 to 500 Mbit / s
Long Term Evolution Advanced LTE-A (since Cat 6), 4G 1 GBit / s (max. 3 GBit / s) 500 Mbit / s (max. 1,5 Gbit / s)
Long Term Evolution Advanced Pro LTE-AP (since Cat 11), 4.5G 1 GBit / s (max. 4 GBit / s) 150 MBit / s (max. 1,5 GBit / s)
- 5G Up to 10 GBit / s 1 to 5 Gbit / s (?)

Restructuring of mobile networks: frequency auction, network expansion and more

A short insert, the topic of which you can devote several articles to yourself: Cellular networks are repeatedly restructured by the various network operators. For example, some old standards have been abolished, new standards added, etc. In addition, frequencies are sold to providers by or with the Federal Network Agency as part of a frequency auction. These serve to expand the networks. These networks in turn are made up of different radio bands, which are the basis of the individual standards / generations. The German Federal Network Agency. There is a summary of the last auction (2015) Tariff.

A corresponding excursus into pricing policy

Mobile phone contracts from network operators such as Telekom, Vodafone and o2 are comparatively expensive, as these providers have to operate, maintain and expand their networks. Providers without their own network, which operate via the aforementioned, do not have the corresponding costs and can therefore offer very cheap discount tariffs. So if you are not satisfied with your network or tend to want more performance, you should invest in network operators instead of choosing the cheapest tariff;)

Fifth generation: 5G as cellular network for IOT and M2M

Under the project, Next generation mobile networks (NGMN), through which LTE was also developed, has been creating the next generation of mobile communications for some time, for which there is currently only the name 5G. Companies such as Nokia, Huawei, ZTE, Deutsche Telekom and others are working on 5G worldwide. This mobile radio technology with enormous data rates and latency times of a maximum of 1 ms is to be introduced in 2020. Until then there may be one or two intermediate steps; The first devices that can use 5G or a type of 4.9G have already been presented.

The final frequency allocation (in Europe) is to take place in 2018. You can find more information on this at Wiki: here and here . The high data rates and other features of 5G are primarily expected by the industry; for the Internet of Things (IOT) and for the Machine to Machine Communication (M2M).

More about mobile communications?

Now you know roughly what is behind GSM, GPRS, EDGE, UMTS, HSPA, LTE, etc. as well as behind 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G. If you would like to read more about mobile communications, the network expansion of the operators Telekom, Vodafone and Telefónica Deutschland, about 5G and the corresponding development in this blog, then please leave a comment;) It is a broad field that you can explore here feel free to ask for help.

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