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What Does the "G" Mean in 5G?

You hear it all the time - “new 5G mobile network!” - but there isn’t always much information to go on about what a “G” actually is. What does it mean?

Start with the simplest answer: "G" stands for "generation." As mobile networks upgrade their infrastructure, they unlock new levels of connectivity. So more G's means more data, faster.

Where the question gets more interesting is in the finer points of what separates one generation of mobile network from another, how it gets built, and what it means for the average user.

Optimum Mobile has all of the “G” information for Optimum customers to better understand what their devices are capable of.

A photo of a jumbled mass of old mobile phones is seen through the bars of Suddenlink graphic overlay

Where does the "G" come from?

The world has come a long way since the days of having a phone hooked up to your car and texting in T9Word on a flip phone. Cell phones specifically have evolved with each new era, which is actually where the "G" comes in.

Each generation of network technology sets a standard for communication signals for mobile devices to meet the guidelines set out by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).

So a "G" update means that there's a new international standard for mobile network capacity which will push technology into a new era. As an update takes hold across the global market for mobile users, previous generations slowly become outdated and obsolete. That's why you hardly ever hear about 3G connectivity anymore - at least not in the US.

How did we get to 5G?

Photo of a mobile phone home screen, with Suddenlink graphics in the background

To understand where we’re heading with 5G, let’s look back and see how each previous generation defined its own era.

  • 1G - In the 1980s, cellular devices delivered sound using an analog voice signal with a continuous frequency and amplitude. Transmission wasn’t very efficient, and cellular phones of this era were viewed as luxury items due to high connection costs. Plus, there was no such thing as the internet, so voice was the only signal sent via cellular. If you’ve ever wondered how the giant brick cell phone from the popular Saved by the Bell meme worked, it was likely connected via 1G.
  • 2G - R U ready? In the 1990s, the world entered 2G, which converted both voice and telephone dialing into a digital signal. This allowed cellular users to not only call but also send text messages for the first time. This era was first marked by the existence of pagers, which gradually morphed into single cell phones that could call and text at the same time.
  • 3G - The early 2000s welcomed the new millennium by diversifying the number of digital transmissions available to include mobile internet. While it was not nearly as fast as what everyone is used to now, the internet back then was still largely based on text and still pictures. So 3G was fine for what it needed to be, and people could do simple things like check a restaurant’s hours of operation before deciding where to eat.
  • 4G - In the 2010s, 4G created widened the mobile network capacity to reflect the more broadband reality of an evolving internet. This generation gave phones the ability to support high definition mobile TV, gaming services, video conference calls, podcasts, and more. 4G also saw the widespread release of Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks. LTE is the standard for wireless broadband communication for cell phones and data terminals today, and increased mobile broadband’s speed and capacity. 4G networks today might seem a little slow at times, but they can still complete internet applications as long as you have reception and a little patience.
  • 5G - Thanks to a tremendous coordinated effort to upgrade cell towers and infrastructure around the world, we’re now entering the 5Gera. The latest and greatest of all the generations, 5G will introduce the highest download speeds and greatest bandwidth yet. This next evolutionary step forward is predicted to have 1.7 billion subscribers worldwide by 2025. From a connectivity and data speed standpoint, 5G will be the equivalent of having WiFi all the time.

Is there a 6G? What's next for mobile technology?

5G - Thanks to a tremendous coordinated effort to upgrade cell towers and infrastructure around the world, we're now entering the 5G era. The latest and greatest of all the generations, 5G will introduce the highest download speeds and greatest bandwidth yet. This next evolutionary step forward is predicted to have 1.7 billion subscribers worldwide by 2025. From a connectivity and data speed standpoint, 5G will be the equivalent of having WiFi all the time.

However, it will be up to the ITU to introduce exactly how 6G will look like. The current timeline puts the framework for 6G to be finished around 2028 and to rollout in 2030.

While the world waits for 6G, 5G will keep us all connected in the meantime.

Good luck and happy sharing!

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