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Mobiles: ready to move on to the fifth?


"One day we will probably see through the eyes of the players."


From the first mobile phone using analog networks to the future 5G, the evolution in mobile telephony standards is the story of epic innovations. Back to the future.

Nowadays, leaving for a weekend in the countryside deliberately forgetting your smartphone is almost a personal challenge, a desire to find your limit of apnea. But about 20 years ago, it was the reverse. It was the era of 2G, which soon followed the very first mobiles. They used analog technology – in France, it was Radiocom 2000 – and few of us had them. Then 2G arrived with the success that we all know about, along with a miniaturized mobile used to… phone and send text messages.

As yet the mobiles of the 90s had no Internet access. The “www” had just appeared on desktop computers. The first GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) standards had bit rates of 9.6 kb / s. Very slow! Then the GPRS (General Packet Radio System) standard rapidly increased bit rates until the EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for Global Evolution) standard reached as much as 150 kb / s.

Cars, hospitals, home automation, stadiums…

In 2001 3G came with the UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) format which reached up to 384 kb / s. Then it was the 3G + and the era of bit rates in Mb / s. Steve Jobs, the emblematic Apple boss, was able to rub his hands together in developing the iPhone, which surfed this explosion of transmission capacity. Closer to home, 4G, along with the LTE (Long Term Evolution) standard, multiplied the mobile bit rates by ten compared to 3G + to reach speeds of several tens of mb / s.

And soon there will be 5G, announced for 2020. The speed of connection will be multiplied by 30 compared to the current 4G standard. At least 100 times more, predict the most optimistic people. But does this speed make sense? Will it really be useful?


That’s a very good question,” says Eric Hardouin, director of connectivity research at Orange. “If you take all the successive generations of mobiles, every time people wondered what we were going to do with all the speed. But experience has shown us that, whatever the technology, there are always applications that will use the available bit rates in order to offer new services. We already have some services that will benefit from higher bit rates, including high-resolution video, 4K and 8K. On a smartphone screen, at the moment these are useless. However, with a virtual reality headset and augmented reality, the case for use is more interesting.”

In practice 5G will make it possible to download movies in just a few seconds. It will connect sensors of all kinds, for health, smart cities or agriculture, will enable autonomous cars to communicate with each other and optimize road traffic, revolutionize video games and virtual reality, and transform the spectator experience in stadiums and concert halls. “One day we will probably see through the eyes of the players,” imagines Éric Hardouin.

The digital revolution, so dependent on connection speeds, has only just begun.

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