Timeline from 1G to 5G: A Brief History on Cell Phones
By Richard Galazzo - September 21, 2020
Updated: January 24, 2022
The timeline and history from 1G to 5G took just over 40 years since the introduction of wireless cellular technology.And a lot has changed since then.
- Cell phones have become smaller.
- Download speeds have become faster.
- Text messaging has come (and almost gone).
- Surfing the internet with phones became common.
- The steam of social media posting continues.
- And apparently, there’s an app for nearly everything now.
The timeline from 1G to 5G couldn’t have happened without creating and enhancing each generation of telecommunications leading to what it is today. Roughly every ten years since 1979, each newer generation has changed how we communicate, further improving our way of life.
Diving into the abyss of information, let’s take a look at the timeline from 1G to 5G, briefly looking at each generation to find out what it had to offer. We’ll also look at the most popular cell phones used during the time.
Launched by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone in 1979, 1G was first introduced to the citizens of Tokyo. By 1984, the first generational network covered all of Japan, making it the first country to have 1G service nationwide.
It wasn’t until March 6, 1983, thatAmeritech introduced 1G to the United States. Soon after, Canada got coverage in the mid-1980s.
Although the cellphone prototype was made in 1973 (10 years before the North American launch of 1G), Motorola introduced the first commercially available cellphone to the public in 1983 -the DynaTAC.
Weighing in at 2 pounds, the Motorola DynaTac provided 30 minutes of talk time and took roughly 10 hours to charge.
Nicknamed “The Brick,” the Motorola DynaTAC was valued at USD 3,995 (USD 10,300 today). Although being a clunky, bulk, and awkward phone to use, DynaTAC sales were more than expected. Within the first year alone,Ameritech sold roughly 1,200 Motorola DynaTAC phones. By 1998, cellphones and similar services accounted for two-thirds of Motorola’s revenues.
1980’s Motorola DynaTAC Commercial
Although being a revolutionary technology at the time, 1G suffered major drawbacks from today’s standards. Listening to somebody over a 1G network was difficult due to the low sound quality. Coverage was also shoddy, with large amounts of static noise and background crackling. No roaming support was provided either. Security didn’t exist over a 1G channel because there was no encryption, meaning anybody with a radio scanner could drop in on a call. Download speed over 1G was also incredibly slow and onlyreached around 2.4kbps.
Although progressive for its time, 1G still had a lot of room for growth.
According to Wikipedia,Russia has the only 1G cellular network still in operation.
Following the success of 1G,2G launched on the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) in Finland in 1991.
2G provided significant mobile talk advancements, introducing encrypted calls (nobody could drop in on your call unwanted anymore). 2G also improved sound quality, reducing static and crackling noises while you were talking. 2G’s download speeds were also significantly faster (but still incredibly slow by today’s standards) than 1G, averaging at about0.2 Mbps during its lifetime.
The 2G network also allowed us to transfer data bits from one phone to another, enablingaccess to media content on cellphonessuch as ring tones. Because we could now transfer data, 2G also gave us some basic smartphone functionality.
However, that wasn’t the most state-of-the-art benefit of this data transfer feature. In fact, 2G’s data transferring completely changed how we communicate by introducing text messages (SMS) and multimedia messages (MMS) as new forms of communication.
Using the same control channels as talk,SMS and MMS messages are sent in packets of data from your cell phone to a tower then to your friend’s phone.
Considered one of the most compelling cellphones Nokia ever built, the 3210 model sold over 160 million units.
As texting, downloading, and talking over the phone became more popular, the 2G network led to the massive adoption of cellphones on both the consumer and business side. Yet, as more and more people began using cell phones, the demand for data snowballed.
Deployed for the public in Japan byNTT DoCoMo in 2001, 3G focused on standardizing vendors’ network protocol. In turn, users could access data from anywhere, which allowed international roaming services to begin.
Compared to 2G,3G had four times the data transferring capabilitiesreaching up to2 Mbps on average. Because of this increase, video streaming, video conferences, and live video chat (remember good old Skype) became real. Emails also became another standard form of communication over mobile devices.
What made 3G revolutionary, though, was the ability to surf the internet (basic HTML pages at the time) and stream music on mobile. Although 2G did offer the same features, they weren’t as advanced as what 3G had in terms of download speed.
As the 3G era continued, improvements to the network increased speeds and support.In Canada alone, download speeds today are almost 6 Mbps.
Although candy-bar and flip phones were popular choices during the 3G era, smartphones were new. This new technology allowed users to listen to music, call, text, and search through the internet on their mobile devices. There were two major smartphone competitors at the time – Blackberry and Apple.
Blackberry launched its first mobile device in 2002 – theBlackBerry 5810.
The smartphone offered a calendar, music, full keyboard, advanced security, and internet access. Oddly enough, calls had to be made through a headset.
It wasn’t until 2007 that the original iPhone came out, soon to dominate the smartphone (and cellphone) marketplace in only a few years.By 2017, Blackberry’s market share was 0%.
Released in 2008, the iPhone 3G or (iPhone 2) paved the way for smartphones today. Apple’s cellphone demand was so high that 1 million iPhone 3Gs sold over the opening weekend.
As smartphones became popular, the demand for faster data and increased network capabilities was only a few years away.
Introduced for commercial use in Norway near the end of 2009, 4G offered today’s standard services.
Starting at a minimum of 12.5 Mbps, 4G provided high-quality video streaming/chat, fast mobile web access, HD videos, and online gaming. Compared to a simple SIM card switch from 2G to 3G, mobile devices needed to be specifically designed to support 4G.
However, when 4G first started, itwasn’t actually 4G. When theITU-Rset the required minimum speeds for 4G (12.5 Mbps), it wasn’t attainable at the time. In response to the amount of money that tech manufacturers were putting into achieving this goal, the ITU-R decided that LTE (Long-term evolution) could be labelled as 4G. But only if it provided a significant improvement over 3G.
In short, when 4G first came out, what you were seeing was 3.9G or 3.95G instead. Today, that’s not an issue, though.
By mid-2011,Canada launched its first LTE wireless networkin Ottawa, Ontario, thanks to Rogers. The release offered speeds just under 12.5 Mbps labelling it 4G LTE. Today though, speeds are faster. In 2020,Canada’s median 4G download speed was 55.5 Mbps.
During 4 G’s reign, the best-selling cellphones included the iPhone 6 at 22.4 million units and the Samsung Galaxy S4 at 80 million units worldwide.
The iPhone 6 (left) was Apple’s best-selling smartphone to date, but theSamsung Galaxy S4 (right) was also a trendy smartphone and the best-selling Android-powered mobile phone ever.
Since its adoption in 2009, 4G has just about reached its capacity in terms of data transferring speeds. With new technologies being introduced at a rapid pace, the world needs a faster network.
5G provides just that.
South Korea was the first country to offer 5G in March 2019. The 5th generation was rolled out by KT, LG Uplus, and SK Telecom – all South Korean telecom providers. 5G in Canada has already been introduced in major cities.
Some experts now claim that 5G will be 20 times faster than 4G. In fact, the median 5G download speed in Canada is 169.46 Mbps. That’s already 205% faster than 4G!
5G latency is incredibly reduced, which increases faster download and upload speeds. Comparing the two, 4G has an average latency of around50 milliseconds, whereas 5G’s average latency is expected to be about 10. It’s also possible that 5G could even drop down to 1 millisecond of latency.
5G also has a larger frequency range (between 30GHz and 300 GHz), supporting more technologies and devices. 5G is an essential requirement of mass IoT deployments, needed for smart cities and other industries.
Even with such potential, 5G has seen some backlash. Could electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) be part of it? Find out in our article: Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS): Is it a Threat to 5G?
The battle for the best smartphone continued into the 5G era, introducing new models like the BlackBerry Key 2.
Will BlackBerry make a comeback with their new 5G phone?
5G: More than Just Faster Internet
This timeline from 1G to 5G brought us to today.
Although 5G hasn’t launched globally yet, its new network capabilities will lead to the next digital revolution. 5G is so fast, only thinking about mobile usage is quite limited. The next generation of wireless cellular tech will enhance machine-to-machine connectivity bringing in a new automated society. Technologies such as AI, IoT, and Cloud Computing will make extraordinary leaps over the next few years.
How 5G Works and Its Features
In the health industry alone,5G is revolutionizing how medical professionals and patients work together. On 5G’s network, Artificial Intelligence will soon diagnose and develop treatment plans for you better than your doctor ever could. Soon,robots could wander on farmer’s fields, monitoring crop conditions and harvesting grain.
5G (and future Gs) will be more than just your phone.
5G isn’t just about faster mobile internet. It’s not quicker download speeds, either. 5G is a game-changer, revolutionizing how we live and work in all industries – not just one. It will change almost every aspect of our lives – how we drive to work in the morning, grow our food, and even root for our favourite sports teams.
5G will completely change our lives, but we don’t even know the possibilities yet – very similar to how 1G changed ours over 40 years ago.
If anything, evolution begins now.
Are you interested in hearing more about 5G and other innovative technologies?
Download our “Next Generation Network Imperative” Whitepaper to find out what the future of next-generation technologies looks like.
The International Data Corporation (IDC), a world-renowned global market intelligence firm, was commissioned to complete this study.
The Next Generation Network Imperative – A White Paper Gap Analysis
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About the Author
Being the Content Marketing Lead at CENGN, Richard researches and shares information on emerging technologies such as 5G, IoT, and Artificial Intelligence.
Through his experience in writing and support for technological growth, he’s always interested in sharing how new technologies are shaping the lives of fellow Canadians.
More by Richard Galazzo
The Smart Cities of Tomorrow Enabled by 5G and IoT
Innovation | IoT | 5G |
5 Industries Taking Advantage of 5G’s Benefits
Innovation | 5G |
6 Ways 5G is Improving Our Healthcare System
Innovation | 5G |
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First Generation 1G
1G was basically a network with voice call capabilities. Nippon Telegraph and Telephone launched it in 1979 to the citizens of Tokyo and available nationwide in Japan by 1984. The US got its first taste of 1G on 6 March 1983 when Ameritech introduced it.
In 1983, the first 1G cellular network launched in the United States, which was Chicago-based Ameritech using the Motorola DynaTAC mobile phone. In the early to mid 1990s, 1G was superseded by newer 2G (second generation) cellular technologies such as GSM and cdmaOne.What are the various generations of mobile computing 1G to 5G? ›
The speed increases and the technology used to achieve that speed also changes. For eg, 1G offers 2.4 kbps, 2G offers 64 Kbps and is based on GSM, 3G offers 144 kbps-2 mbps whereas 4G offers 100 Mbps - 1 Gbps and is based on LTE technology .When did 1G shut down? ›
However, 1G was an analog technology, and it was made obsolete in 1991 by its digital successor: 2G. 2G also marked the birth of SMS text messaging as it allowed for data transfers to take place.When was 5G invented? ›
In 2017, the carriers began trialing fixed wireless 5G services as a replacement for wired broadband home internet. Closed trials of 5G home internet ran well into 2018 before becoming commercially available later that same year. It wasn't until early 2019 that the first 5G mobile networks rolled out.When did 5G come out? ›
The 5GTF work helped accelerate the release of the 3GPP 5G New Radio (NR) standard in December of 2017. On April 3, 2019, of we introduced 5G mobile service in parts of Chicago and Minneapolis. Customers in those cities were the first in the world to have a 5G-enabled smartphone connected to a 5G network.What is 5G brief history? ›
In telecommunications, 5G is the fifth-generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks, which cellular phone companies began deploying worldwide in 2019, and is the planned successor to the 4G networks which provide connectivity to most current cellphones.Did 1G bring us the first cell phone? ›
Although the cellphone prototype was made in 1973 (10 years before the North American launch of 1G), Motorola introduced the first commercially available cellphone to the public in 1983 -the DynaTAC.Who invented 1G mobile phone? ›
1G mobile communication system was introduced in Japan in 1979 by Nippon Telegraph and Telephone (NTT). Initially, it started in Tokyo and within next five years expanded to cover the whole of Japan.What is 1G to 5G? ›
Mobile connectivity has evolved at a rapid pace since the late 1970s due to the ongoing demand for high-speed communications across the globe. In telecommunications, Fifth Generation (5G) is the latest technology standard for broadband cellular networks.
The 5G networking architecture consists of three different network types that will work together in the future, but the three tiers of radio signals have different characteristics.What was 1G in mobile phones? ›
1G or (1-G) refers to the first generation of wireless telephone technology (mobile telecommunications). These are the analog telecommunication standards that were introduced in 1979 and the early to mid-1980s and continued until being replaced by 2G digital telecommunications.Which country is still using 1G? ›
Which country is still using the 1G network in limited or demo use? Russia is still using NMT technology 1G services.What does SIM in SIM card stand for? ›
SIM stands for Subscriber Identity Module and it's a small plastic card that slots into your phone.What is disadvantage of 1G? ›
The drawback of 1G is limited channel capacity, large phone size, low voice quality, and low battery life.When did US activate 5G? ›
In the United States, 5G services launched in 46 markets on January 19, using frequencies in a radio spectrum called the C-band.What is the timeline for 5G? ›
|Time period||Cellular network generation||Speed|
|1998–onwards||3G||2 Mbps on stationary or non-moving devices and 384 Kbps on devices in moving vehicles|
|2009–onwards||4G||Maximum 400 Mbps|
|2019||5G||Maximum in the theoretical range 10 Gbps–20 Gbps|
South Korea is the country which deployed the first 5G network and is expected to stay in the lead as far as penetration of the technology goes, By 2025, almost 60 percent of mobile subscriptions in South Korea are expected to be for 5G networks.What is the disadvantages of 5G? ›
The fact that 5G has a spotty worldwide reach and is currently only available in a few locations is its major drawback. The 5G network will primarily benefit cities; remote areas may not receive coverage for several years. The costs for installing tower stations are very high compared to other networks.Will 4G phones work on 5G network? ›
You must have a 5G-capable phone to access a 5G network. Older 4G devices without 5G radios will not connect to 5G networks.
Norway. The Netherlands, Hungary, and Norway are the next three nations in the world to provide the fastest Internet speeds. Norway offers Internet service at a speed of 52.6 Mbps. Norway was previously ranked 11th in terms of internet speed.What are the generations of network 1G 2G 3G 4G 5G? ›
1G, 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G are the five generations of mobile networks where G stands for Generation, and the number denotes the generation number. 5G is the latest generation, whereas 1G networks are now obsolete. The cellular technologies GSM, UMTS, LTE and NR enable 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G, respectively.What was the first 5G phone in the US? ›
Despite a slight delay it was the Samsung Galaxy S10 5G that became available first.What was the first phone to support 5G? ›
Verizon was also the first carrier to offer a 5G-compatible phone when it launched its moto z3 smartphone. However, that phone required an accessory that attached to the back of the device to access the 5G network.Does 1G still exist? ›
2G: SMS and MMS
Although 2G replaced 1G and is superseded by later technology versions, it's still used around the world.
In 1983, the DynaTAC 8000x was the first commercially available handheld mobile phone. In 1991, the second-generation (2G) digital cellular technology was launched in Finland by Radiolinja on the GSM standard. This sparked competition in the sector as the new operators challenged the incumbent 1G network operators.What is better 1G or 5G? ›
The 1-gigabit-per-second speeds can slow inside older houses that connect to the fiber-optic cable through copper wires. 5G cellular networks are more mobile, using radio waves to transmit data. High-frequency 5G can have the same speed for downloads as gig-speed fiber-optic service.What is the difference between 1G 2G 3G 4G and 5G networks? ›
The 5G technology will provide a higher data rate, reduced latency, more efficient power than the previous generations, higher system capacity, and more connected devices. Method It will offer new different technologies and enhanced versions of the existing ones, as well as new features.What is difference between 4G and 5G? ›
The biggest difference between 4G and 5G is latency. 5G promises low latency under 5 milliseconds, while 4G latency ranges from 60 ms to 98 ms. In addition, with lower latency comes advancements in other areas, such as faster download speeds. Potential download speeds.Does 5G replace WiFi? ›
If 5G Home is available at your location, it could replace your current home internet connection. Its ultra-powerful performance means that everyone in your household can use their devices, all at the same time. And it's at an unbelievable value—with no extra contracts, no extra fees and no data caps.
Privacy, Security, and Compliance: While security standards can overlap between the two technologies, WiFi networks authenticate user access while 5G authenticates device access. Both can be configured to meet compliance and security standards.Do all phones need to upgrade to 5G? ›
If your current phone is 5G-compatible, you likely won't have to upgrade anything to get access to the faster service where it's available. If your phone isn't 5G-compatible, you'll have to get a new one. Unfortunately, 5G phones are significantly more expensive on average than other phones.Was the G1 the first smartphone? ›
Although the G1 has gone down in history as the first Android smartphone, it was actually the second device designed by the Android team. The original plan was to offer a BlackBerry-like device in late 2007 which was known internally as the HTC Sooner.What's the difference between 1G and 5G? ›
The 5G technology will provide a higher data rate, reduced latency, more efficient power than the previous generations, higher system capacity, and more connected devices. Method It will offer new different technologies and enhanced versions of the existing ones, as well as new features.What was the first 5G cell phone? ›
On March 6, 2020, the first-ever all-5G smartphone Samsung Galaxy S20 was released.When was 5G introduced in us? ›
Mobile 5G service from Verizon began in early April 2019. Parts of 1,700 cities have access to 5G Ultra Wideband right now (here's the map), including Chicago IL, Minneapolis MN, Denver CO, Providence RI, St.What technology was before 5G? ›
Early 2000s: 3G brought mobile data (e.g. CDMA2000). 2010s: 4G LTE ushered in the era of mobile broadband. 1G, 2G, 3G, and 4G all led to 5G, which is designed to provide more connectivity than was ever available before.