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 on the GSM standard (Global System for Mobile Communications). In addition to telephony, this made the mobile transmission of data 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 nationwide, but is mainly used for telephony and SMS because of the said slow transmission rate. However, after the switch-off of 3G in Germany, 2G is still used, for example, for the automatic emergency call system in vehicles (eCall).

3G / UMTS: After GSM, the third mobile radio standard was developed in 2000 with UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) or 3G. Compared to the 2G standards, it transmitted data much faster. Due to the new radio access technology Wideband CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access), 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 favour of newer mobile radio standards and are using the frequencies that become available for the expansion of 4G and 5G. For IoT and M2M projects, the shutdown of 3G only means problems if the M2M SIM cards or M2M tariffs used do not support the use of 4G and 5G. The M2M SIMs from wherever SIM support both 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G, so our customers do not have to fear any restrictions due to the M2M SIM.

4G / LTE: 4G or LTE (Long Term Evolution) is one of the mobile phone standards with the fastest data transmission. Even downloading larger data is possible within a few seconds. However, 4G is not yet available nationwide in Germany. An investigation by the Federal Network Agency in 2021 showed that only one of the three mobile networks in the 4G standard can be received on about 7.2 per cent of the total area of Germany. The southern federal states are particularly poorly covered: a maximum of one mobile network can be received on 15.5 percent of the area of Bavaria, in Baden-Württemberg on 15.1 percent and in Rhineland-Palatinate on 15.9 percent. 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. This can use the mobile networks of different providers and dial into the strongest network available at the respective location.

5G: The quasi newest mobile phone standard and "successor" to the LTE network is 5G. It is considered a kind of revolution in the mobile network, as it is supposed to enable data transmission in real time. However, the 5G network is only very weakly developed so far, even though network operators worldwide are investing more and more in the expansion and are pushing it forward. 5G should be exciting for newly growing areas in the Internet of Things (IoT) that expect very high data throughput, for example autonomous driving or virtual and augmented reality applications. On the technical level, 4G is already capable of meeting these requirements and realising such projects. However, 5G is assumed to have a different pricing structure, with very high data consumption resulting in lower costs than in the 4G network. Here you can read more about the advantages of 5G for IoT and M2M projects.