Tech Talk #175–Mar 19, 2022
If we’re talking about Wi-Fi, then the G stands for gigahertz.
Wi-Fi networks are like radio stations in that they broadcast signals to be picked up by other Wi-Fi devices. Like radio stations, Wi-Fi radios broadcast on radio frequencies, either 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz. That whole GHz thing stands for gigahertz, which is one billion hertz. A hertz is one cycle (of something) per second. Heinrich Rudolf Hertz proved the existence of electromagnetic waves in the late 1800s, so they named one cycle after him.
But if we’re talking cell phones, then the G stands for generation. Here, the G refers to the cellular technology standard phone companies use to handle your cell phone call. The first generation of cellular standards was, you guessed it, 1G way back in 1981, followed by 2G in 1991, 3G in 2001, 4G in 2009, and 5G in 2018.
Technically, those are the years the standards came out and not when the tech became available to consumers. The 5G standard came out in 2018, but even today, not all phones or cellular networks support 5G.
Each new cellular standard enables faster download speeds and better security. And yes, somewhere, somebody is working on the 6G standard.
If you’re the sort of person who keeps all of your old cell phones, and if you power one up, you probably won’t be able to find any bars. But why?
Sort of like Wi-Fi, your cell signal travels in electromagnetic waves. Cell phone companies use specific frequencies technically called spectrum but usually called bands. Unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of bands to go around, so cell phone companies shut down the bands that don’t get a lot of use to give more resources (and speed) to the most-used bands. So, for example, since they’re usually one generation behind, they shut down 1G bands to support more 2G and 3G devices. Then they shut down 2G to support more 3G and 4G devices.
The first Android phone was a 1G device, while the first iPhone was a 2G device. If you still have either (and can charge it), you won’t be able to connect it to a cell network. Android phones that came out before 2010 and iPhones up to the 5 ran on the 3G network. If you have one of those old phones, it should still connect, maybe. At least for a while anyway. Cell providers are shutting down the 3G band to give other devices, especially 5G devices, more bandwidth.
Weirdly, if you’re cleaning out your attic or garage and come across a dusty old push-button phone, you could plug it into a landline jack, and it will still work. If, of course, you’re still paying for a landline. Those old push-button phones use dial tone multi-frequency signaling (DTMF) technology that’s been standard since 1963. 1963! You’ll know your old phone is using DTMF if you hear beeps and boops when you’re pushing the buttons. If you want to use an even older rotary-style phone on your landline, you’ll need a rotary to DTMF converter, but it’ll work. Those old rotary phones are why we still say we’re dialing somebody’s phone number, even though we’re pushing some buttons and not dialing anything.
Back to cell phones. If you have an old cell phone that can’t connect to a network anymore, it doesn’t mean it’s useless. It will still connect to your Wi-Fi network, and then you can use it to get your email, play games, or stream some TV. Okay, it’s probably a pretty small screen, but it’ll work.
I’ll keep looking
Just wanted to send a quick thank you for recommending and installing the new computer. Unfortunately, in spite of all its wonderful upgrades, we still have to pay Federal Taxes! If you ever find a computer that guarantees refunds, please let us know! LOL
Sue and Jack
Do you have a computer or technology question? Greg Cunningham has been providing Tehachapi with on-site PC and network services since 2007. Email Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org.