Wireless Network Generations
You ever pick up your phone and notice “3G”, “4G”, “4G LTE” right next to the signal bar of your phone’s home screen? Those aren’t just random numbers and letters. They are actually representations of your network’s signal strength. “G” stands for “Generation”, while the numbers beside it represent the technological leaps of wireless network communication. These are equally important with your pet tracker as they are with your phone.
Although wired communication (e.g. optical fiber) is reliable and fast, network developers still made an effort to utilize technology in order to produce wireless communication to people. The effort began in 1979, when the first generation of wireless communication was developed.
Before sinking deep into the realms of cell tower technology, remember there are other possible technologies you can consider and we recommend reviewing our article on choosing the best pet tracker technology.
1G TO 5G: The Evolution of Wireless Network Communication
1G (Analog Telecommunications)
The first generation of wireless cellular communication was introduced in the late 1970’s and stretched its development in the 80’s. It was first commercially introduced in 1987 by Telecom (present day Telstra). 1G uses analog telecommunication technology (radio signals), supporting voice-only calls. The maximum speed of 1G network is 2.4 Kbps
2G (Digital Telecommunications)
The transition from analog to digital telecommunications technology gave birth to the second generation of wireless cellular communication. Unlike 1G network, 2G uses CDMA (Code-division Multiple Access) and GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) to provide secure and reliable communication channels. Utilizing these multiplexing technologies, 2G allowed multiple users to engage in a secured single wireless communication channel. 2G was commercially introduced in 1991 by Radiolinja.
2G introduced services such as SMS (Short Message Service), MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), internal roaming, conference calls, call hold, and billings based on services (e.g. charges based on long distance calls, real time billing). The maximum speed of 2G network (with General Packet Radio Service or GPRS) is 50 Kbps and is at 1 Mbps (with enhanced data rates for GSM Evolution or EDGE), which is perfect for GPS location and a pet tracker.
3G (Mobile Broadband)
Third generation ushered faster data-transmission speeds, facilitating greater voice and data capacity while maintaining low costs. Utilizing UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) technology, 3G introduced services such as web browsing, email, video downloading, picture sharing, and other smartphone technology.
Commercially introduced in 2001, 3G increased efficiency of frequency spectrum by compressing audio during phone calls allowing multiple users to engage in simultaneous calls. 3G complies with the specifications (speed should be at least 200 Kbps) set by the International Telecommunications Union (IMT-2000). The maximum speed of 3G network is 2 Mbps (for non-moving devices) and 384 Kbps (for moving devices).
4G/LTE (Current Network Standard)
4G network was developed with the purpose of providing users high-speed, high quality, and high-capacity network services while improving security and lowering the cost of voice and data services, multimedia and Internet. 4G supports mobile web access, IP telephony, gaming services, high-definition mobile TV, among other capabilities. Honestly it is overkill for a typical pet tracker, but as these devices advance with more data requirement we anticipate seeing more 4G capable pet trackers.
4G has two main standards—WiMAX (no longer offered/used) and LTE (Long Term Evolution). LTE is a series of UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) upgrades. 4G is different from 4G LTE only in the sense that the latter is used by devices that are capable of supporting 4G’s true criteria, while the former is a regressed version of what 4G standards, promises. In other words, 4G is a network used by devices that can’t support the full standards of what “true” 4G network promises (4G LTE), but uses network speed, quality, and capacity significantly larger and faster than 3G. The maximum speed for 4G is 1 Gbps (for non-moving devices) and 100 Mbps (for moving devices). Today, most mobile phones support 4G-technology.
5G (next year?)
While 5G is still under development (coming to a cell tower near you soon!). The goal of 5G is to provide faster data rates, higher connection density, much lower latency, device-to-device communication, lower battery consumption, and improve overall wireless coverage. It is said to utilize Massive MIMO, Millimeter Wave Mobile Communications and Li-Fi technologies to support connections for at least 100 billion devices and allow users to send 10 Gb/s to other devices with unseen lower latency.
5G is expected to be release by 2020, with a projected theoretical maximum speed of 20 Gbps.
Network Coverage of Different Carriers in the US
The evolution of mobile networks from 1G to 4G LTE caused telecommunications companies to keep up with the developing technology. Hence, most mobile phone and network providers limit their phone and network support to 3G, 4G, and 4G LTE.
In the United States, the leading network providers—AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon—provide mostly 4G and 4G LTE support for mobile users. While most network providers no longer support 2G networks, T-mobile as a major carrier and some rural carriers still do (e.g. Cellular One, Union Wireless, U.S. Cellular). Despite the existence of carriers that support 2G networks, 2G is often no longer be regarded as a nationwide network system that people can rely on.
2G Network Limitations
While many other countries still support 2G (mostly for global positioning concepts like a pet tracker), it may not be ideal for you to buy a mobile device that supports 2G because it the 2G network is becoming more limited. It is still functional for a large chunk of the USA through T-Mobile and some partner networks, but we suggest checking to see if there is decent coverage in your area before investing in a 2G GPS pet tracker and a SIM card to work on it.
Today, the United State’s longest-range frequencies (600 MHz and 700 MHz) are new enough that 2G devices cannot support them. Since each carrier only has a limited spectrum of network to provide, AT&T and T-Mobile ceased its production of 2G devices. They chose to focus on a bandwidth that had newer and more efficient standards than maintain their support for an old network that nobody uses anymore. AT&T turned off its 2G GSM network back in 2017. 2G GSM devices do not work on most US carriers. Despite the fact that Verizon and Sprint are still running their 2G CDMA networks (until 2019), GPS devices will not work unless they are pre-approved by them.
The evolution of mobile networks, along with the increasing demand for faster network services, push telecommunications companies to keep up with the developing standards of 3G, 4G, and 4G LTE networks. Since most carriers already have turned off their 2G GSM network, be careful investing in a 2G pet tracker.