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 Tutorial Includes:
What is cellular communications    


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.

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.

Then by 2015 more than 7 billion mobile subscriptions (for all technologies) were active. This is a major feat when it is realized 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.

Cellular telecommunications generations

There is a lot of talk about the mobile phone generations. 3G moves on to 4G and then onto 5G.

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.

Generation Approx launch year Focus
1G 1979 Mobile voice
2G 1991 Mobile voice
3G 2001 Mobile Broadband
4G 2009 Mobile Broadband
5G 2020 (expected) 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.

  • 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 user equipment could also be a dongle used for accessing data on a laptop, or it could also be a modem on another form of device – for example cellular communications is starting to be used for Internet of Things, IoT applications and as a result it could be attached to a smart meter to automatically send meter readings or it could be used for any one of a host of other applications.
  • 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.
  • 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.


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