Wireless technology has come a long way from its invention in the 19th century. Ever since Guglielmo Marconi sent a transmission across the English Channel in 1899 and the first radio communication across the Atlantic Ocean in 1901, the trajectory has been meteorically upward: radio stations, TV remotes, digital cellular service, and text messaging are just a few of the now ubiquitous breakthroughs that followed.
The technology has become so prevalent that many people do not even realize how often they harness it. For example, it is not uncommon for someone to use Wi-Fi, a cellular network, Bluetooth, microwave, radio, and infrared all in the same day.
Mobile communication technology, in particular, has brought about a revolution in global communication. According to a report from Cisco, there were 7.5 billion mobile-ready devices and 4.8 billion mobile users at the end of 2015.
Mobile technology has gone through numerous iterations over the past couple of decades. The third generation (3G) uses IP (internet protocol) and SS7 (Signaling System 7, a set of signaling protocols) to handle data, text, and voice usage. Being faster and more secure than its predecessors 1G and 2G, 3G popularized internet usage on a handheld device. But it has also become a target for hackers, who can take advantage of flaws in SS7 to listen to calls and read text messages.
Further, the demands of modern wireless networking soon outstripped 3G's capabilities. Slow services and dropped calls were not uncommon during peak hours. 4G, or LTE (long-term evolution), was an attempt to address these issues. It is essentially an all-IP network. Due to higher base speeds, users experience fewer peak-hour problems, and enough capacity exists for services such as email and web browsing.
4G provides considerably more bandwidth than 3G (up to 200 mbps, or megabits per second, compared to 2 mbps) and opened the door to greatly increased usage of mobile video conferencing, cloud computing, and Skype calls.
But even 4G is no longer enough for many consumers. That's why researchers are hard at work on 5G networks. With speeds of up to 100 gigabits per second, 5G is planned be more than 500 times faster than 4G. In addition, it is planned to offer far more network stability.
The idea is to make mobile services match those available inside a modern office building. That means never going offline, having enough speed to cope with any application or network demand, and having enough security to keep would-be-intruders at bay. 5G is expected on the market by 2020.
Eventually, wireless services could replace fixed-line services inside many organizations, particularly those in remote locations or with a highly mobile or virtual workforce. The economics are certainly in its favor because mobile data masts are much easier and cheaper to install than fiber optic cables. In fact, high-bandwidth, fixed-line services may never arrive in rural areas if 5G fulfills its promise.
As a comparison, an eight-gigabit video would download in about six seconds on 5G. With 4G, it would take seven minutes, and 3G more than an hour. Even though those speeds may seem more than enough, they may struggle to keep up with insatiable demand.
According to the Cisco Visual Networking Index Report, mobile data traffic is growing at 74 percent per year and has now exceeded 3.7 exabytes (a billion gigabytes) per month. The volume of mobile data traffic has grown 4,000-fold over the past ten years. Mobile video traffic accounted for more than 55 percent of total mobile traffic for the year. Undoubtedly, the size of mobile files is only going to get bigger as more video content is added. Webcasts, instructional videos, sales briefings, and marketing campaigns will be created and stored on mobile devices.
With the critical role wireless communications has played and will continue to play around the globe, wireless technology education programs have become popular among college students. Organizations are searching for individuals with the skills necessary to lead the development of sophisticated Wi-Fi and mobile solutions.
The University of Delaware’s online Master of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering helps students understand this rapidly evolving landscape. It provides the student with a comprehensive understanding of signal and information processing, communication networks, data analytics, and cybersecurity theory.