The dawn of smartphones coincided with the introduction of 3G networks. In spite of the second generation's best efforts, there were certain limitations that 3G was built to surpass. This brought about wireless technology as we know it today — web browsing, video downloads and picture sharing.
Third-generation networks also had much higher data rates than past networks. Endless buffering was no more. Unofficially, multimedia streaming became much more popular, and voice quality this time around was much clearer.
Since then, higher data rates have been in ever-increasing demand, mostly to support smartphone users' taste for media consumption. This demand has been successfully met with sensational upgrades in transmission speeds among cell phones.
Fourth-generation, or 4G networks, only became possible due to the technological advancements made in the past decade. Besides the basic amenities of a cell phone, 4G networks were made to offer the highest grade of speed, quality and capacity that was possible at the time. Smartphone users not only want to call, but they want the internet, games, high-definition television and cloud computing all wrapped up in one pocket-busting, reflective screen.
On a technical basis, 4G is more difficult to define. Two principle standards of 4G networks are WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) and LTE (Long Term Evolution). The initial versions of 4G were more closely aligned with WiMAX. They were sometimes dubbed 3.9G and are now considered to be antiquated. LTE, the more common standard, characterizes a series of recurring upgrades to the 4G network. Unlike WiMAX, there is less controversy over whether LTE should be marketed as a 4G network.
The fourth-generation of mobile networks successfully ended buffer as a concept entirely. Imagine a video playing instantly when you press play or a document downloading moments after your finger clicked the download button.
The fifth-generation of mobile technology, 5G networks, is a never-before-seen phenomenon. Currently still under construction for the majority of smartphone users, it's at the front line of shiny, brand new toys we can look forward to as this decade is just beginning. Like every generation before, 5G networks are intended to improve on past generations. In this case, that means better than 4G networks. Now that's impressive.
The specific refinements of 5G include less than a millisecond of delay to download content and maximum download speeds of 20 gigabits per second. To compare, the handy 4G phone that's probably by your side right now delivers data with about 70 milliseconds of delay and has an average download speed of one gigabit per second. It's fast, but not as fast as a 5G network.
How Does 5G Work?
Though still in the works for many network carriers, there are five main technologies that the tech-savvy expect will bolster performance for 5G networks compared to 4G — millimeter waves, small cells, massive MIMO, beamforming and full duplex. These names might sound funny on the tongue, but they can all be broken down into laymen's terms.
Congestion of mobile networks is usually credited with the fact that our mobile providers run on the same bands of radio-frequency spectrum that has been used for ages. Bandwidth is the range of frequency allocated for a given band to transmit signals, and there is only so much of it to go around. This leads to overcrowding, so laggy service and dropped calls occur as a result. Millimeter waves — which run on higher frequencies than radio waves — could be the solution to such a problem. Fifth-generation networks propose occupying a whole new band on the spectrum via broadcasting on these waves.