Driving the evolution of mobile phones

As we approach 5G, an entirely new realm of speed and efficiency is opening up to us. As much as this leap promises to offer, however, it also illustrates more of an expansion of what already exists than a complete reshaping of how our mobile lives operate. Despite this, it still represents a consistent evolutionary pattern of mobile development.

On the physical front, Lottoland’s blog shows the development of mobile phones starting from the first generation to modern systems. From suitcase to pocket-sized, this covers all of the big names and leaps which occurred.


What we want to do in this article, however, is to take a more abstract and internal approach. Looking back through the major generational leaps, what can we tell about contributions from the social and technological environment of the time? How did this dictate direction and focus? Let’s take a look.

First Generation: 1979 – Early 90s

The first generation of mobile phones was a step which society had been attempting for decades. Long-wave radio was hardly a new development, as the need and desire for such a technology was always too great to ignore. It was only around this time, however, that analogue systems became advanced enough to carry this burden on a mass scale.

Second Generation: Early 90s – 2000s

The biggest leap in the second generation of mobile devices came from the adoption of digital signal encryption. This addressed many of the problems of signal crossing with the first gen, while also giving the potential for additional digital communication such as SMS.

This was eventually bolstered by updates that allowed higher data transmission rates and basic internet access as infrastructure improved.

While the digital changes were, again, made possible through general technological improvements, it was SMS that drew the most attention. Suddenly, fast methods of passing small messages were conceivable, and this popularized much of the short-hand which the internet uses today.

walkie talkie evolution” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by conskeptical

Third Generation: 1998 – Today

The third generation of mobile connectivity capitalized on the explosive success of text messaging. This generation went all-in on the knowledge that mobiles were becoming ubiquitous and reshaping the entire communication landscape.

Further technological improvements continued the pattern of increased speed, while also allowing a wider range of access opportunities. Video calls became possible, as did online gaming and internet browsing. Ultimately, this combination of factors would grow to be a cornerstone of what would become the smartphone movement.

Fourth Generation: 2009 – Today

With smartphones now a necessary part of life, both manufacturers and governments were eager to get the most from these new opportunities. 4G was up to five times faster than 3G and offered much-improved integration with smartphone devices.

This leap leveraged the potential of smartphones as tools not just in communication, but also in gaming and social interaction. At this point, nearly every part of a person’s life could be done online, from playing the PowerBall to buying your groceries and hanging out with your family.

Samsung Smartphone Galaxy Fold 5G: folda” (CC BY 2.0) by verchmarco

Fifth Generation: 2019 – ???

The upward trend of higher speed continues with 5G, with special attention paid to the evolution of smartphone complexity. Today, smartphones can use enormous quantities of data, and this necessitates a much more robust network to handle traffic. Steaming is a big part of this, and the popularity of gaming apps has also driven growth.

As this generation releases in a few countries in 2019 and begins worldwide rollout in 2020, we have to wonder how long this generation will last. Many of the old generations still function as backups, with 3G being especially reliable in this regard. Could we be looking back at 5G 20 years from now thinking it slow and inefficient? How will societal change affect the coming generations of connectivity? Only time will tell.

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