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Wednesday, 2 November 2011

A Brief History of Telecommunication part 2

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A Brief History of Telecommunication part 2
by matt_bird on 01-11-2011 11:52 - last edited on 01-11-2011 16:41

A Brief History of Telecommunication

Part Two

In the previous post we took a look at the birth and growth of simple wired communications networks from the very beginning, with the invention of Morse code in the mid 1800s through to the deployment of fibre systems which started in earnest in the late 20th century. At around the same time that fibre was beginning to be used to carry large numbers of simultaneous calls and data we also saw the first steps in personal wireless communication coming to market.

There is an important distinction between the first generation system of mobiles and later developments, in that 1g as it was known was an analogue system. The voice is sent 'live' as it were. With 2g onwards the networks became digital, in which the voice is sampled and broken down into data before it is sent. The receiver at the other end then reassembles that data to make the voice that we hear.

The first generation of analogue mobile systems was launched in Japan by NTT in 1979 and covered Tokyo's 20m people with 23 base stations and by 1984 covered the whole of the country. The 1g network was started in Europe by Nordic Mobile Telephone and began in 1981 covering Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. In 1983 Motorola started in Washington DC and on 01/01/85 the first UK mobile call was made with Vodaphone.

1G Motorola DynaTAC 8000 Range. Released: 1984 to 1987

Second generation networks became digital and began in the early 1990s, these networks mainly operating on GSM, General Standard Mobile using CDMA technology. This digitization saw a move away from the huge brick like handsets of analogue to smaller handsets more like those of today. 2g saw the advent of SMS / text messages in 1993 and of 'pay as you go' pre-pay systems in the late 90s.

NMT had in 1998 managed proof of concept trials for payment systems via mobile phone with both car parking and a Coca-Cola vending machines being able to take money this way. The first commercial system to work like a bank or credit card was launched in the Philippines in 1999 simultaneously by two operators Globe and Smart.

Mobile phone adverts first appeared in Finland in 2000 giving users news headlines sponsored by advertising. This was the start of the ability to download new ringtones for individual handsets and let loose on the world the insipid 'Crazy Frog' phenomenon, although at this point ringtones were usually only polyphonic due to the slow download speeds of the time. The rise in popularity of easily accessible mp3s is still in the future. In 1999 NTT DoCoMo of Japan established the first mobile internet service and quickly realized the limitations of 2g data speeds.

2g 1991 GSM mobiles & AC adapters

During the development of 3g systems the old 2g standards of CDMA were upgraded by integrating the competing EV-DO to become 2.5g, this lead to the GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and the EDGE standards with which we are still familiar and fall back on when our current 3g signal fails. This 2.5g has data rates up to 310kbps downstream, far too slow to support video streams with any certainty, although you can of course download to watch later.

The beginnings of 3g were started by NTTDoCoMo in early 2001 and they rolled out the first commercial 3g network in October of that year using (the now familiar) WCDMA technology. In 2002 the second 3g network was in South Korea and the third, Monet, in the USA. These two used the competing CDMA / EV-DO standards which was the Betamax of 3g and Monet have since collapsed. The second network with WCDMA and was launched by Vodaphone KK (now known as Softbank) in Japan. At the same time in Europe the Three / Hutchison group started up in Italy and the UK.

The following year 2003, saw eight more 3g launches across Europe all but two of these using the WCDMA technology, the other two utilizing the EV-DO standard. WCDMA has since prevailed with over 80% of the global market and is now the industry standard technology for 3g. Generally using HSDPA standards which allow data rates from 1.8, 3.6 & 7.2 up to 14.4mbps, the invention of HSDPA High Speed Downlink Packet Access in the mid noughties was the real game changer.

It started with Dongles so you could connect to the web with your laptop on the move, then suddenly, phones which for years had only been able to get emails as little more than a business function, evolved. Now real-time audio and video streaming is possible we can truly have the internet in our pockets with highly specialized mobile broadband devices that we know as smartphones.

3G 2010 from £50 to £500

The goal now as we move into the 2nd decade of this millennium is the new 4g capability. The standards have been set very high with connectivity speeds of 100mbps for cars and trains and a staggering 1gbps for low mobility communication i.e. pedestrians and stationary users. So far there are only '3g+' or 'near 4g' standards in use, these are called WiMax (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access (2006)) which offers up to 128mbps down and 56mbps up, and Long term evolution (LTE (2009)) offering up to 100mbps down and 50mbps up, there is also HSPA+ (High Speed Packet Access) running up to 84mbps down and 22mbps up.

Already in the USA, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint have started to build faster networks on the LTE protocols and are saying they will be fully operational in 2013. However this is all little more than a rebranding exercise as the International Telecommunication Union has allowed the networks to call these standards 4g even though they are yet to deliver the 100mb+ speeds required and won't complete the roll out of these networks until 2013. There is also Lightsquared who plan to use satellites to cover 92% of the US's population with LTE by 2015, although clearly the up speeds will be no match for the down.

Telstar, 1st Communications satellite

There are also encouraging signs coming from Russia believe it or not, in 2007 in St Petersburg, Yota started with WiMax but moved to LTE and now has a government contract to provide wireless broadband across 180 cities with 70 million potential customers by autumn 2012. Yota have also built networks in Peru, Nicaragua and Belarus. The closest 'near 4g' network to home in Britain is on the largest Channel Island, Jersey who also have a fibre backbone for their home broadband and have the worlds 2nd fastest connection speeds after South Korea.

Both WiMAX and LTE are able to call themselves true 4g with their latest upgraded standards, however they work on different radio systems to those currently in use by the networks in the UK so we're not going to see these kind of speeds here for at least a year or two yet, which is certainly a disappointment.

I for one await the launch of true 4g systems with great expectations for a big shake up in the business models of traditional Telco’s who's charging mechanisms will be properly challenged by the staggering data rates that 4g promises us.

Thank you very much for reading,


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