A brief history of mobile communications: from 1G to 6G

Knowledge Nugget

A brief history of mobile communications: from 1G to 6G

Five generations of cellular standards have fundamentally changed our lives, but the world of mobile communications is still evolving

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Updated on 13-May-2024 🛈
Originally published on 01-Apr-2023

Strictly speaking, the history of wireless begins with Heinrich Hertz. In the year 1886, he was the first person to generate and verify the existence of radio waves. In 1912, the first radio telegraph system developed by Guglielmo Marconi was used aboard the sinking Titanic to send an emergency SOS. Once the underlying physical foundations were mastered, standardization of mobile communications could begin.

Beginnings: 1G and 2G

The first cellular generation (1G) is remembered for its analog voice transmission and bulky mobile phones that have very little in common with modern devices.

In 1982, Groupe Spécial Mobile (GSM) was founded – the starting shot for cellular technology across Europe. The idea was that frequencies for mobile communications should be allocated only to operators who agreed to use the GSM standard. This made proprietary systems a thing of the past. Travelers no longer needed to buy a separate mobile device for every European country.

2G introduced digital voice transmission and the short message service (SMS). Furthermore, a new type of ecosystem emerged consisting of network operators, infrastructure providers, device manufacturers and T&M specialists.

The field of mobile communications has undergone rapid development over the past four decades. While 1G only supported voice telephony, the latest generations (4G, 5G) can transport sophisticated multimedia content, leading to many new applications for private users and industry.

Entering the age of data

With the introduction of the UMTS standard, 3G enabled telephony, data transmission and communications between machines. 4G optimized voice transmission and brought high-quality audio and video to smartphones – paving the way to the apps we commonly use today.

Now 5G focuses on large-scale networking. Devices as diverse as fitness trackers, refrigerators, traffic lights and industrial robots are being connected to the network. Lastly, 6G will support the further evolution of mobile communications with technologies such as artificial intelligence.

How is Rohde & Schwarz involved?

It is highly likely that your mobile phone was tested using equipment from Rohde & Schwarz. Our core business includes signal simulation and analysis, in-depth testing of mobile devices and base stations as well as verification of service quality in mobile networks – all going back to the introduction of 2G.

Rohde & Schwarz has a long tradition of innovation: This test setup for 2G mobile communications is from the year 1993. Since then, the company’s test setups and systems have accompanied every major development in the mobile industry.

The product line is continuously adapted to support new generations of mobile technology. For example, we now offer radio communication testers like the R&S®CMX500 for 5G wireless devices.

This is because the standards imposed on manufacturers and operators must be verified by a test authority in order to ensure flawless operation and interoperability. Our test and measurement equipment provides all the functions that manufacturers and test authorities need to perform the relevant tests as efficiently as possible. This is how we make a major contribution towards compliance with the specified standards.

We are committed to making a similar contribution for future mobile communications standards. Rohde & Schwarz is already researching and developing test and measurement solutions for 6G – the next generation of cellular standards, but certainly not the last.

Learn more in our ThinkSix video series.

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