What are generations in the context of mobile services?

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What are generations in the context of mobile services?

You’ve no doubt heard adults say sometimes that they feel a “generational difference” when discussing certain topics.
The term is commonly used to describe misunderstanding due to an age gap. Generations are divided according to age.
WordNet, an online reference database on English words, gives one of four definitions for generation as “A stage of technological development or innovation.” This definition best explains the use of the term in describing mobile communication services.
You may also have heard of “second-” or “third-generation mobile communications.” When a new mobile communications service is launched, the term “generation” is used to indicate that it is an entirely new, or improved service being introduced.
Although we may not realize it, old and new mobile communications services overlap and coexist in the consumer market. Each newer stage of service is given a higher generation number.
For instance, a second generation service is newer than a first-generation service, third-generation is newer than second-generation, and so on.
So far, technology has developed for commercial use up to the third generation of mobile communications services. Commercial service means that the service is available for consumers on the market, as opposed to a technology that may have been developed but is just used for research in a laboratory setting.
But what is the “generation difference” in mobile communications?
Now that we understand that mobile services have developed from first-generation through to third-generation services, let’s look at what the differences are between the three levels of services.
First-generation services were the mobile communications available to consumers from the 1980s to the mid-1990s. The only use for a cellular phone then was for conversation. Some of you may remember the first mobile phone handsets ― they were about the size and weight of a brick! The transmission method was analog.
In early 1996, Korea became the first country in the world to develop second-generation mobile communications services based on Code Division Multiple Access, or CDMA. CDMA is a somewhat complicated digital cellular telephony system that uses a multiple-access-scheme technology. While it’s difficult to understand all the technical details, the key words in CDMA are “multiple” and “digital.” This new technology allowed more users to “connect” with each other because there were more channels available. The sound quality was much clearer and there were fewer disconnections while in use.
So, what’s the difference between “digital” and “analog” systems? A digital system uses binary numbers for input, processing, transmission, storage or display; an analog system is based on a continuous spectrum of values for all those functions and processes.
Before the second-generation services, only a limited number of people could make cell phone calls at the same time because signals would get mixed up.
Second-generation services, however, not only improved sound quality, but also enabled transmission of data. Text messaging and wireless Internet were introduced as part of second-generation services. Text messaging has now become something of a basic service and mobile service providers are offering more sophisticated services.
In the United States, second-generation services are referred to as personal communication services, or PCS.
The most widely used mobile service is the second-generation service. Third-generation mobile services are only available in Europe, having been introduced there in 2004. In Korea, mobile companies are getting ready to start third-generation services.
SK Telecom and KTF set up a communications network in Seoul and its environs to enable third-generation mobile communications in 2002. However, no one is using third-generation services yet. That is because there aren’t many phones that can actually support the service. Currently, there is only one model of third-generation mobile phone available in Korea.
SK Telecom and KTF plan to begin 3.5-generation mobile services sometime later this year. In a sense, they’re skipping third-generation and moving right on to 3.5-generation services. This 3.5-generation service is called High-Speed Downlink Packet Access, or HSDPA, and transmits information about six times faster than third-generation services.
You will be able to download large files like movies through a mobile phone easily. KT’s mobile Internet service that will start in June is also a 3.5-generation mobile communications service.
Third-generation mobile communications are a mix of sound, data, and image. SK Telecom’s June and KTF’s Fimm provide video services, but not video telephony services, so they fall somewhere between second-generation and third-generation services.
Third-generation service provides clearer images and video telephony. Parents can also monitor (or spy on) their children to see if they are studying or playing. With third-generation service, it will be hard to lie about where you are. If the person calling asks, “show me through your camera where you are,” there is little room for pretense.

Why are services improving?
As mobile services move on to the next generation, the transmission speed increases. Transmission was terribly slow with first-generation service, which struggled to even transmit sound. Faster speeds in second-generation mobile services enabled both sound and data transmission.
Second-generation services are up to six times faster than first-generation services.
Third-generation services are from 10 to 37 times faster than second-generation services.
If you think that’s fast, imagine this: fourth-generation services that Samsung Electronics is developing right this moment are about 50 times faster than third-generation services!
Fourth-generation services will probably be available after 2010 ― by then, you will be able to send high-definition video clips and three-dimensional videos via mobile phone. Analysts predict that this technology will also enable doctors who are on vacation to receive live videos of patients on their cell phones and prescribe medication. I wonder if anyone has asked the doctors if they to look forward to that capability.
By the way, when talking about “generations” in mobile communications, shortcut terms are usually what the public will encounter. For example, instead of saying “second-generation” or “third-generation,” people working in the industry commonly refer to them as 2G or 3G.
So next time you hear people talking about 3G phones, you’ll know they’re referring to third-generation phones.


by Lee Hee-sung
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