The Evolution of Cellular Networks & What It Could Mean for Your Agency

The Evolution of Cellular Networks & What It Could Mean for Your Agency

In just 10 years, smartphone usage has climbed almost 700% with no expectation of slowing down.1 In order to support the growing bandwidth, cellular providers work on a next-generation operating model with more frequent releases. We hear a lot about “5th generation (5G)” and “Long-term Evolution (LTE)” technology, but the typical consumer may not understand what these terms mean.

As more community corrections agencies leverage technology to enhance community supervision, we want to help you understand the impact and future implications. Each generation of wireless technology has the potential to reduce cost, increase device longevity, and provide more reliable supervision techniques for agencies.

The primary goal of next generation networks is to support more users and faster data transfers. To understand where cellular network technology is headed, it’s helpful to look back on the different cellular generations.

The History of Wireless Networks

1st Generation (1G)

The first generation was introduced in the late 1970s and ran on an analog system. Motorola, Inc. produced the first commercially available cellphone in 1983, named DynaTAC. The device ran on 1G with limited coverage, poor sound quality, and zero security. While revolutionary at the time, providers quickly recognized the need for a more reliable and secure communication channel.

2nd Generation (2G)

2G launched in the early ‘90s through one of two communication technologies to handle the demand for mobile broadband. This generation transferred data from one device to another with text messages and multimedia content, changing the way we communicate.

The Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) networks provided many fundamental features still in use today, including Short Message Service (SMS), internal roaming, conference calls, call holding, and billing based on long-distance calls.2 The main distinction between the two networks is GSM transmitted data and voice simultaneously, while CDMA did not. As a result, approximately 95% of the world’s devices operated under GSM.3

3rd Generation (3G)

As the world became more digital, 3G was introduced in 2001 to facilitate greater voice and data capacity, support a wider range of applications, and increase data transmission at a lower cost. During the 3G era, smartphone technology emerged giving us the ability to stream data, surf the internet, listen to music, conduct video conferences, and send emails. By this stage, CDMA technology had progressed and became equivalent to GSM. While 3G mobile devices operated on GSM and CDMA, the emergence of LTE technology would soon make these networks obsolete.

4th Generation (4G)

In 2010, the focus was on 4G and the implementation of Long-term Evolution (LTE) technology-enabled devices. 4G was a major milestone for wireless technology as it enhanced mobile applications, high-definition TV, video conferencing, cloud-computing, and gaming. 4G’s backward compatibility created some panic in the technology industry as devices on GSM and CDMA networks will be inoperable at the end of 2022.

What’s Next for Wireless Technology?

5th Generation (5G)

While you have probably heard about 5G technology, it is still under development. The future of 5G will support wireless Virtual Reality (VR) gaming, remote control robots, and driverless vehicles. The new generation promises even faster data rates, higher connection density, and lower latency, but it will take some time before we see the tangible benefits of 5G.

Implications for Community Corrections

The progressive transformation has both benefits and disadvantages. Wireless network improvements give electronic monitoring (EM) devices the opportunity to hold and transfer more data at faster speeds, making them more agile and reliable. However, devices running on the previous generation, GSM and CDMA wireless systems, are scheduled to become inoperable by the end of 2022.

When choosing an EM provider, agencies need cost-effective solutions that meet their current and future needs. BI considers these needs on a daily basis and has worked diligently to integrate LTE technology into our present and future products, including GPS, alcohol, RF, and mobile solutions. According to Joe Newell, Senior Director of BI Labs and Wireless Strategy, “One of the core missions of our research is to continually evaluate each new generation of wireless technology and understand how it can improve the products and services we offer. As a result, we’ve engineered BI LOC8® XT and BI HomeGuard® 20|20 to operate on both 4G and 5G networks, providing our public sector partners with the longevity on which they depend.”


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