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3G technology: Yesterday, today, and tomorrow

Cellular technology has been evolving since its invention. With the first cellular telephone networks, developed by Bell Labs and AT&T, cellular technology began to make leaps forward in ease of use, voice quality, and data communication. The miracle of technology we know today as the cellular phone was made possible by a steady stream of innovation that continues on into the future.

The history of cellular technology starts at Bell Labs in the 1960's and 70's where they began to iron out the details on what a commercial cellular network would be. A cellular network is a network of base stations, or antennas, that form large pockets (cells) of radio signal coverage that overlap. With a technology called "handover," if you made a call using one base station, and you then moved out of that base station's range and into another base station's area, your call could be "handed over" to the base station that was closer to your location. These base stations allowed you to make calls to other cellular phones or to wired landline phones.

Over the years, the evolution of cell phone technology has been broken up into "generations." It started with the first generation (1G), and it continues to the upcoming fourth generation (4G). In the beginning, cell phones weren't much more than huge walkie-talkies. Over time, though, they evolved into the data powerhouses that we carry around in our pockets.
1G technology was analog. A cell phone's connection to the cellular network wasn't much more than a radio signal. Cellular phones had to be so large that most had to be installed into your car. Later, cell phones would be reduced in size to fit into bulky cell phone packs that you could carry with you using a shoulder strap. Finally, in 1983, Ameritech launched a 1G cellular network in Chicago that offered the Motorola DynaTAC "brick" mobile phone. It was small enough to bring with you, but it still weighed two pounds.

2G technology was digital. It was a huge leap forward for cellular technology in that the signal between your cellular phone and the cell tower was made up of ones and zeroes rather than an analog wave. It was much more efficient and allowed cellular networks to expand their capacity immensely. On the consumer side, the technology allowed for much clearer voice communications, without the static common in 1G networks, and it also allowed the beginning of the text message (SMS) and "smartphone" markets.

3G technology, the current standard in cellular service, improved cellular service even more. On the network side, it was even more efficient than 2G and allowed greater capacity on the cellular network. It allowed much faster data connections that approached broadband speeds. It also allowed a consumer to use both voice and data features on their phones at the same time.

However, the march of technology goes ever forward, and now there is a fourth generation of cellular technology just over the horizon. Unlike previous generations of cellular network technology, 4G is not designed around voice services but is designed around the Internet. It will also do away with many of the cellular network incompatibilities between carriers and countries. It will have blazing fast data speeds starting at 100 Mbps (approximately DSL speed), and top out at 1Gbps (approximately LAN speed). It is designed to be used with both mobile phones and more static computers. Unlike today, most US and international cellular carriers will use the same network standard that is called Long Term Evolution (LTE). The only exception is Sprint, who opted for a competing technology called WiMax.

The developments in cellular technology promise a worldwide network of mobile voice and data communication like we've never seen before. Imagine a broadband connection to the Internet and crystal clear calls anywhere you go. Get ready for 4G!

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