GSM, UMTS and LTE - From 2G to 5G

The evolution of mobile communication standards. What lies behind 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G and their respective advantages for the Internet of Things.

2G, 3G, 4G, 5G: What's behind it all?

2G, 3G, 4G and 5G are mobile phone standards. The G stands for generation and means the second, third, fourth and fifth generation. The difference between the various generations lies primarily in the speed of data transmission. Most people know 2G, 3G, 4G or 5G through the use of mobile data on smartphones or tablets. However, mobile radio is also very popular in the context of M2M communication, i.e. the exchange of data from machine to machine. Advances in mobile data transmission are continuously adding new M2M and IoT application possibilities. But even the older mobile radio standards have already ensured strong growth in the IoT and M2M sector.

Mobile evolution: from 2G to 5G

2G / GSM: In 1992, 2G was introduced as the first digital mobile network based on the GSM standard (Global System for Mobile Communications). In addition to telephony, this made mobile data transmission possible for the first time. The data is transmitted via GPRS (General Packet Radio Service), but is very slow compared to today's standards. In Germany, 2G is available almost everywhere, but is mainly used for telephony and text messaging due to the slow transmission rate. However, after 3G was switched off in Germany, 2G is still used, for example, for the automatic emergency call system in vehicles (eCall).

3G / UMTS: After GSM, UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) or 3G was developed in 2000 as the third mobile communications standard. Compared to the 2G standards, it transmitted data much faster. Thanks to the new Wideband CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) radio access technology, UMTS also made it possible to send and receive several data streams simultaneously. In the meantime, network operators in Germany have switched off their 3G networks in favor of newer mobile communications standards and are using the freed-up frequencies for the expansion of 4G and 5G. For IoT and M2M projects, switching off 3G only causes problems if the M2M SIM cards or M2M plans used do not support the use of 4G and 5G. The M2M SIMs from wherever SIM support 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G, so our customers do not have to worry about any restrictions due to the M2M SIM.

4G/ LTE: 4G or LTE (Long Term Evolution) is one of the mobile communications standards with the fastest data transmission. Even large data downloads are possible within a few seconds. However, 4G is not yet available nationwide in Germany. A study by the Federal Network Agency in 2021 showed that only one of the three mobile networks in the 4G standard can be received in around 7.2 percent of the total area of Germany. The southern German states are particularly poorly covered: 15.5 percent of Bavaria is covered by a single mobile network, 15.1 percent in Baden-Württemberg and 15.9 percent in Rhineland-Palatinate. For IoT projects in which the 4G network plays an important role, it is therefore all the more important to use a multi-network SIM card, e.g. from wherever SIM . This can use the mobile networks of different providers and dial into the strongest network available at the respective location.

5G: 5G is the latest mobile communications standard and the "successor" to the LTE network. It is considered to be a kind of revolution in the mobile network, as it is intended to enable data transmission in real time. However, the 5G network has so far only been very poorly developed, even though network operators around the world are investing more and more in its expansion and driving it forward. 5G is likely to be exciting for newly growing areas in the Internet of Things (IoT) that expect very high data throughput, such as autonomous driving or virtual and augmented reality applications. On a technical level, 4G is already able to meet these requirements and realize such projects. However, a different pricing structure is assumed for 5G, which causes lower costs with very high data consumption than in the 4G network. You can find out more about the advantages of 5G for IoT and M2M projects here.