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    Overview of Mobile Networks

    Mobile (cellular) networks have evolved rapidly as analog voice gave way to digital voice, and now routinely include data services and streaming digital video, all delivered to the mobile device or user equipment over an IP network. Although not directly part of 4G or the Long Term Evolution (LTE) of mobile networks, some background on the 3G mobile architecture and the 3G packet gateway, or gateway GPRS support node (GGSN), is necessary. This is because the Packet Data Network Gateway (P-GW) in the LTE architecture is still expected to internetwork and interoperate with 3G (and often even older) architectures and devices.

    The major generations of mobile network architectures are:

    • “1G”—The first generation; of course, no one called this type of mobile network “1G” because no one knew there would be subsequent generations. It supported analog voice bandwidths and did not support GPRS data.
    • 2G—Once mobile networks proved popular, the next step digitized the radio signal (which added capacity and was spectrally more efficient) and added some rudimentary data capabilities through the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) standard. Phone conversations were now digitally encrypted and text messaging (short message service, or SMS) began, although it would take years before most devices supported such messages. Enhanced mobile networks added digital services such as GPRS or Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution (EDGE). Many mobile networks are still some form of 2G networks. The gateway GPRS support node (GGSN) was included in these advanced architectures.
    • 3G—The many flavors of 2G networks led to the formation of the 3G Partnership Project (3GPP) to standardize the next generation of mobile networks. The universal mobile telecommunications system (UMTS) was standardized by the 3GPP and is widely used around the world. Today, many cell phones are GSM/UMTS hybrids. The latest UMTS release is called High Speed Packet Access (HSPA and HSPA+), offering higher bit rates.
    • 4G and LTE—The fourth generation of mobile networks is defined by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) as 4G. The 3GPP has also created a standard to provide a context for the “long-term evolution” of mobile networks (LTE) and LTE Advanced.

    As time goes by, the designations 3G and 4G have become more marketing terms than architectural standards.

    Published: 2011-11-16