The State of Telephony

We live in a world where almost anyone can communicate with anyone across the globe using a portable device that fits in the palm of their hand. Mobile phones are ubiquitous now and have advanced to the point where they combine capabilities that have made several earlier devices obsolete, or at least optional. Remember PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants)? Smartphones can now handle your calendar, set reminders, manage your contacts, and send emails. Point-and-shoot cameras? Their sales have dwindled due to the ever-improving quality of the smartphones.

With all the tricks that smart mobile devices have up their sleeves nowadays, it’s easy to forget about one of their most basic functions: telephone calls. That’s understandable since every new generation of cellular network technology brings with it newer capabilities and increased bandwidth.

During the cellular phone boom of the early 2000s, voice calls were the priority, and GSM technology ruled the roost. In order to ensure the best coverage, several different frequencies of cells were employed. Handsets at the time would only support certain frequency bands, which could render them useless when travelling abroad to places where different frequencies were used. Multi-band phones alleviated this problem.

These 2G (second generation) networks allowed for digital voice communication, text messaging, and slow data transmission. 2.5G added faster GPRS data transmission, and 2.75G improved on it further with EDGE. 3G really kicked off the smartphone boom and allowed for Apple’s iPhone to redefine what a mobile device can do.

3G was a big step up, but still rather slow next to emerging fixed line broadband technologies. 3.5G spiced things up a lot with HSPA and HSPA+ data speeds, and although those technologies are still dominant, they’re still not enough.

4G, better known as LTE, finally threatens speeds in excess of DSL lines, but it requires an optic fibre backbone. LTE-A (4.5G) improves the efficiency and speed further.