Hot or Not?
2G, 3G, 4G, and everything in between: an Engadget wireless primer.
It's hard to believe nowadays, but in a simpler time, cellphones really were called "cell phones," not dumbphones, smartphones, feature phones, or superphones. They bulged in your pocket -- if they fit in your pocket at all, that is -- and they made calls. That's it. None of this social networking, messaging, browsing, Instagramming, Flash 10.1 nonsense. They didn't upload 5 megapixel photos to Flickr, and they most certainly didn't turn into wireless hotspots.
Of course, those bleak days are mercifully behind us now -- but as carriers around the world start to light up a promising new generation of high-speed wireless networks, things are beginning to get a little confusing. Just what is "4G," anyway? It's one higher than 3G, sure, but does that necessarily mean it's better? Why are all four national carriers in the US suddenly calling their networks 4G? Is it all the same thing? Answering those questions requires that we take a take a little walk through wireless past, present, and future... but we think it's a walk you'll enjoy.
First things first: "G" stands for "generation," so when you hear someone refer to a "4G network," that means they're talking about a wireless network based on fourth-generation technology. And actually, it's the definition of a "generation" in this context that has us in this whole pickle in the first place; it's the reason why there's so much confusion. But more on that in a bit -- first, let's take a trip down memory lane into the primordial ooze that gave rise to the first generation way back in the day.