1G brick phone 1G
Before 2G and GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) existed, there was something called 1G and brick phones that anyone could listen into with the right equipment.
2G and the first SMS 2G
Then just before the Millenium, 2G came along and it was all about the handsets – everyone wanted the Nokia 75 that was in the Matrix. Nokia, Ericsson, and Motorola were the major players, and people could send messages for the first time. SMS actually started off as an engineering accident, when some engineers realised they could send short messages to each other on the signalling channel – hence the name SMS - Short Messaging Service.
At the time I was building internet networks in Amsterdam, I was home for Christmas and New Year, and my sister had a fancy new Ericsson phone. I remember watching her sent a text message to one of my relatives in America, and it took her about 15 minutes. She only had a keyboard with numbers 1-9, and maybe 3 buttons underneath. Now, at the time of course, this handset was state-of-the-art, but I was shaking my head when she finished sending the message. “Ok, well this is terrible”, I thought, “but nothing we can do about it”.
So Nokia, Ericsson and Motorola were thinking they were going to run the show forever, and they were focusing all of their marketing on their handsets around circuit switching, but at the same time I was working for a mobile operator, and we were working on GPRS (the first thing you could do were those terrible MMS messages). The networks by this time were looking for IP people as they started to put IP routers into networks, and the circuit switching guys at this time were wondering what kind of sorcery this was. This paved the way for Apple.
3G and the iPhone 3G
When the iPhone launched in America, I was visiting family there, and I brought an iPhone back to the UK. I had this phone that everyone wanted, that wasn’t even on sale yet in the UK, and that I knew I could use in America, but I got to the UK and I couldn’t use it – it was a glorified brick. They were using different systems for frequencies in America for their spectrum so the phone couldn’t work in the UK. By this time, 3G was being rolled out.
The government was giving out spectrums and sold them for huge amounts of money. At that time, we had Orange, T-Mobile, Three, and BT decided to sell off Cellnet (where I worked for a time), because they didn’t think there was any money in mobile if you can believe that, then there was 21
st Century Network and Raidcall Vodafone. Then the iPhone came along and everyone loved the user interface and usability of the design - I defy you to go back to an old phone now just for laughs.
At this stage the mobile operators were getting panicky because their main customer revenue generation was charging huge amounts of money for SMS messages, data and voice, so, in their wisdom, they decided to build a walled garden with mobile apps tied to the device. It wasn't like Google or Apple today, where you can go and download the latest app from any independent person, no, you were tied to that mobile operator. It was rubbish, but they wanted to corner the market on the Killer App.
With 3G you could do video calls, and in the mid 00s there was a product called Push to Talk, where you send a message, then your friend sends one back, which was very popular in Italy, Portugal, Spain but not so much in northern Europe. People were interested in voice, video all these fancy things at the time, in IP multimedia.
4G, Angry Birds & Dishonesty in the Marketing 4G
When 4G came around you started to see the Facebook app, around 2006, and there was the iPhone 6 but you still didn’t have a Google Android phone, and Ericsson was already losing market share by the bucketload. At the time, I was sitting in the core of these networks circuit switching, and I starting seeing apps migrating to Apple, people were starting to download games, Angry Birds came along, and smartphones were becoming mini computers.
Vendors were overpromising and underdelivering with 4G - we were told we’d get the same speed as broadband, which is just not true. If I say to you, you’ve got a water tap at home, now if I turn on the tap in your bath, then turn on the tap in your sink, which one will have more power going to it? Now imagine you’re in the middle of London and you want to use 4G from what was then Vodafone T-Mobile on your Apple iPhone 6 to download a series, now everyone else in central London also has an iPhone 6, and also wants to use the 4G connection to download a series, let me tell you, the service will be rubbish. And on the other side, in the mid00s there was lots of churn, because service wasn’t good, or people wanted cheaper packages. If there’s no broadband coverage in a rural area how many people do you think will switch from 4G to 5G? None, because there’s no point. There’s a lot of overpromising and dishonesty in the marketing.
Duane Wright is a CCNP-R&S, JNCIP-ENT/SP, JNCIS-SEC, Project management PMP-ACP and member of the Hubbado IT network community.