What is Cellular Communications: Mobile Technology

Mobile phone or cellular technology is widely used and is based upon the concept of frequency re-use by the application on a series of coverage cells.

Cellular / Mobile Telecommunications Basics Includes:
What is cellular communications     Concept of cellular system     Radio access network, RAN     Basestation Technology     Base station antenna technology     Multiple access techniques     Duplex techniques     What's inside a cellphone     SIM cards     Handover     Backhaul    

Mobile phone or cellular telecommunications technology has been in widespread use since the early 1980s.

Since its first introduction, its use has increased very rapidly to the extent that a major portion of the global population has access to the technology.

Conecpt of a mobile communications or mobile phone network
Top level view of a mobile communications network

From developed nation to growing nation, mobile phone or cellular communications technology has been installed in all countries around the globe.

The cellular telecommunications industry has been a major driver in the growth of the radio and electronics industries.

Development of cellular communications

Although cellular communications are now accepted into everyday life, it took many years for their development to occur.

Although the basic concepts for cellular communications technology were proposed in the 1940s it was not until the mid-1980s that the radio technology and systems were deployed to enable widespread availability.

Usage of the cellular communications systems grew rapidly and as an example it was estimated that within the United Kingdom more calls were made using mobile phones than wired devices by 2011.

Another example of the growth of cellular telecommunications systems occurred in 2004 when the GSMA announced at Mobile World Congress in February 2004 that there were more than 1 billion GSM mobile subscribers – it had taken 12 years since the first network was launched. By comparison it had taken over 100 years for the same figure to be reached for wired telephone connections.

A selection of old cellphones that were used with the 2G GSM cellular system
Selection of GSM mobile phone handsets

Then by 2015 more than 7 billion mobile subscriptions (for all technologies) were active. This is a major feat when it is realised that the global population was just over 7 billion. This meant that many people had more than one subscription, although market penetration was obviously very significant.

Note on the History of Mobile Phone Technology:

Mobile phone technology has developed every year. From the first introductions of cellular phone systems in the 1980s to current day, new technology development has steadily improved the systems available. Starting with the first generation analogues systems, new 2G digital systems were introduced and these have moved on so that 5G technology is now being developed.

Read more about Mobile Phone History.

Cellular telecommunications generations

There is a lot of talk about the mobile phone generations. 2G gave way to 3G which then moved on to 4G and then 5G, 6G and so forth.

These new mobile phone or cellphone generations came as the old technology became accepted and new demands were placed on the system. Often these were new requirements as it became possible to see how a next generation system could be used and what benefits it would bring.

These new generations were made possible by the way in which the general electronics and radio technology moved forwards.

Each mobile phone generation had its own aims and was able to provide different levels of functionality.

There may have also been several different competing standards within the different generations. For 3G cellular communications there were two main standards, but for 4G there was only one as there was global consensus on the system to use and this facilitated global roaming. 5G was the same and this is why it was not given any branding apart from 5G.

Generation Approx launch year Focus
1G 1979 Mobile voice
2G 1991 Mobile voice
3G 2001 Mobile Broadband
4G 2009 Mobile Broadband
5G 2018 Ubiquitous connectivity

Key cellular communications concepts

As the name indicates, cellular telecommunications technology is based around the concept of using a large number of base stations each covering a small area or cell.

With each base station communicating with a reasonable number of users, it means that the whole system can accommodate a huge number of connections, and the levels of frequency use are good.

A cellular communications system has a number of different areas, each of which performs a different function. The main areas detailed below are the main ones that are normally referred to when discussing cellular communications systems. Each of these areas can often be split much further into different entities.

As the mobile or cellular networks develop, new approaches are adopted and although the basic concepts remain the same, some of the techniques used for achieving them may differ.

Mobile handset or user equipment, UE

The user equipment or mobile phone is the element of a mobile communications system that the user sees. It connects to the network and enables the user to access voice and data services.

The actual equipment can take many forms, traditional cell[hones, smart phones large and small and many other devices like tablets, etc also connect to the mobile network.

In addition to this, many devices used for monitoring, sensing and actuation as part of what is termed the Internet of Things, IoT also act as mobile devices connecting to the network.

Although we often think of the main connections to the mobile network are the mobile phones we use, the number of connected devices is increasing fast, and their complexity and capabilities are also significantly increasing.

Read more about . . . . what is in a mobile phone.

Radio access network, RAN

The radio access network is at the periphery of the cellular communications system. It provides the link to the user equipment from the cellular network.

It comprises a number of elements and broadly includes the base station and base station controller.

With cellular communications technology advancing, the terms used and exactly what they contain is changing, but their basic function remains essentially the same.

Also techniques like Open RAN are becoming more widespread. An Open Radio Access Network O-RAN is a nonproprietary version of the Radio Access Network (RAN) system that allows interoperation between cellular network equipment provided by different vendors.

Read more about . . . . the Radio Access Network, RAN.

Core network

The core network is the hub of the cellular communications system. It manages the overall system as well as storing user data, manages access control, links to the external world and provides a host of other functions.

The network includes many functions. Obviously it provides significant levels of connectivity between different elements of the radio access network, and it also manages the handover from one cell to the next as it knows the location of the cells, their loading and many other factors.

However, the core network also has many entities and handles many other activities. It provides authentication and access for mobiles allowed onto the network, both from home users and those that are roaming.

The core network for the cellular network also provides checks on the mobiles themselves as it checks the IMEI, the International Mobile Equipment Identifier and can bar mobiles that may be stolen, or not authorised for use, etc.

Other activities include billing - this is a major activity that is required to provide a functioning and viable cellular or mobile network. This element will link into areas such as sales where new contracts are set up.

Overall the core network undertakes a huge number of activities, and although it is not seen by the user, it is a major element of any mobile communications network.

Mobile communications networks consist of a huge number of elements that all need to work effectively to provide the service we have come to expect from our mobile communications systems. The performance they provide is staggering, when the number of functions that are needed is considered.

With connectivity available in most areas, and with data download speeds that can be achieved along with all the other functionality, today's mobile communications networks provide amazing levels of performance.

Wireless & Wired Connectivity Topics:
Mobile Communications basics     2G GSM     3G UMTS     4G LTE     5G     Wi-Fi     Bluetooth     IEEE 802.15.4     DECT cordless phones     Networking fundamentals     What is the Cloud     Ethernet     Serial data     USB     LoRa     VoIP     SDN     NFV     SD-WAN
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