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Best answer 60%
April 06, 2006
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Historically, The cell phone evolution has occured, since 1945, in technical leaps which we call generations.
0G was the invention of the mobile telephone without networks, where callers had to connect to a base station and operator. In 1979 and 80, 1G came out, where the cellular radios (as we engineers called them) were first connected to networks of stations (called cells).
The 2G networks were the first ones where consumers became aware of new capabilities and started buying the technology heavily. This was during the late 90s and into the early 2000s. These were the first phones with the PHS, CDMA, GSM, mail, Cameras, and other options.
3G is the network expansion which allowed direct internet connections, Wideband data access, simultaneous voice, data, music, and telephone, plus network based apps all rolled into one. 3G is the network which allows you to use the cell phone as a credit card.
4G is a network in the planning stages, although some companies say they are implementing parts of the 4G net now. 4G includes a network specification (engineer talk for basic requirement), for 100 megabit to 1 gigabit data transfer rates while highly mobile worldwide. It also includes high quality of service requirements for multimedia support (real time audio, high speed data, HDTV video content, mobile TV, etc). 4G is coming, but is not here yet, because the specs are still being worked over at the ITU (Intenational Telecom Union) in Geneva.
A 3G/4G network is one where the network meets all the 3G ITU Specifications, and also has upgraded to meet the 4g Specifications as they are ratified by the ITU. What they want to say when they Announce the 3G/4G Network is that they are ready for the future. Most engineers will tell you that they really mean they'll say anything to sell their phones.
I found some good sources for you to read if you want the serious technical background on these. Answers.com has good articles, and also many links to the technical papers on these subjects: