Skip to main content
Logo - Deutschland spricht über 5G
5G mobile technology

3G, 4G, 5G – what’s the difference?

Everyday life without a smartphone? For many, this would be unthinkable. The new 5G mobile telecommunications standard opens up many possibilities. But what makes this new generation different from its predecessors?

5G is a systematic evolution of the previous mobile telecommunications standards, namely GSM (2G), UMTS (3G) and LTE (4G). 5G mobile communications are a key technology for the digital transformation. This is especially true of the industrial production sector and the Internet of Things (IoT), though it also applies in plenty of other areas of life, including mobility, agriculture, healthcare provision and many more. 

Data transmission – almost in real time 

Each generation of mobile communications has raised use and requirements to a new level. The new 5G mobile telecommunications standard also introduces many innovations not found in previous generations. One significant difference in the new generation is what is known as the latency. For 5G, the requirement is to be capable of transmitting a 32-byte data package between two points in a millisecond at approximately the speed of light with a specific degree of reliability. 

The latency of 5G is decisive above all when it comes to controlling plants and facilities in the industrial sector. Here, machines have to carry out commands from the control room without delay – in the event of a vital emergency shutdown, for instance. 

Large bandwidths offer tremendous opportunities 

For private customers, this strict time requirement is advantageous because significantly more data can be transmitted at close to the speed of light and with ever broader radio channels. In this way, with its high channel bandwidths, the new mobile telecommunications standard opens up fresh opportunities for commerce and society: automated driving, the use of augmented reality (AR) and the Internet of Things. 

Video abspielen

From generation to generation, mobile communications are getting faster

Multiple antenna systems are boosting network capacity 

 Today’s mobile networks are geared primarily towards the desires of users, who want 

  • broadband networks with high data rates, 
  • networks with extremely low latency times and a high level of reliability, or 
  • networks with a large number of devices or machines. 

 To accommodate this, the 5G expansion uses active multiple-antenna systems, or massive multiple-input and multiple-output (MIMO). MIMO makes it possible to use multiple transmitting and receiving antennas in one antenna housing for wireless communications, thereby boosting both data rates and reliability. 

Targeted provision through beamforming 

Thanks to the technique known as beamforming, 5G can provide users with mobile communications in a targeted manner. A 5G transmitting antenna with this technology directs its radio waves in a more targeted fashion, towards where the users actually are. Beamforming ensures, among other things, that multiple users can download data simultaneously without any reduction in any other user’s data rate. 

This is made possible by active user-oriented antenna technology. Previous generations of mobile communications mainly use passive antennas. Their signal transmission is geared towards sectors, so they are not able to flexibly orient themselves towards actual usage. With beamforming, the “beam” adapts automatically and interactively to the end device – a mobile phone, for example – thereby achieving an optimum connection. 

The shift towards targeted transmission: how conventional and 5G antennas operate

Meeting individual requirements through network slicing 

5G is multitalented and capable of serving the different needs of each respective user optimally thanks to a technique known as “network slicing”. Here, within one 5G network, multiple “virtual” networks can run alongside each other – dividing networks up into multiple “slices”, so to speak. This allows latency, reliability and data rates to be customised precisely to meet the special requirements of users. One such network might, for example, be used for the transmission of large volumes of data, while another minimises time delays in communications between machines. 

The history of mobile communications 

Do you remember the time before mobile communications? When there were no mobile phones, no messaging services, no navigation or music streaming? Everyday life without a smartphone – that’s something most people can barely imagine these days. The history of mobile communications in Germany goes all the way back to 1918, when the German state railway began testing the possibility of mobile telephony. They went on to deliver this in 1926 on the route connecting Hamburg and Berlin. 

The first national mobile network (the “A-Netz”) came into operation in 1958. Further first-generation analogue mobile networks followed in 1972 (the “B-Netz”) and 1985 (the “C-Netz”). In 1992 with the start of the first second-generation mobile network – the “D-Netz” – the general public was able to access digital communications for the first time. Eight years later, there were over 48 million mobile connections in Germany. 

With the turn of the millennium, the last first-generation mobile network was switched off and the UMTS network (3G) was launched. This version gave users the option of many multimedia functions, including playing music and videos on their smartphones and mobile surfing. 3G also increased the data transmission rate. The fourth generation of mobile communications, 4G (also known as LTE, or Long Term Evolution) – was first presented in Hong Kong in 2006. LTE has been enhancing the UMTS network in Germany since 2010. Compared to its predecessor, 3G, the most noticeable difference is in the data transmission speed. Downloads in particular are faster. 

The infrastructure of the LTE mobile telecommunications standard now forms the basis for the expansion of 5G. This is because the 5G technology available to date still requires an existing 4G network in order to establish the connection. The aim is therefore to achieve full mobile communications coverage with LTE, thereby laying the groundwork for Germany to position itself as a world leader in 5G over the next few years. 

Stellen Sie eine Frage oder sagen Sie uns Ihre Meinung

Haben Sie Fragen oder Anregungen? Lassen Sie es uns wissen. Schreiben Sie unseren Expertinnen und Experten oder tauschen Sie sich mit anderen aus.

Zum Online-Dialog