IoT Technologies - GSM, 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G

By Shahnail Khan Last updated : November 14, 2023

In the realm of IoT, the choice of connectivity is a critical factor to consider for deploying an IoT solution. From the old GSM technology to the cutting-edge 5G, each generation of cellular technology offers unique features and capabilities. In this article, we will explore the intricacies of GSM, 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G technologies which will help in successful IoT solution deployment.


GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) is a digital cellular network standard that enables mobile voice and data communication. It was developed by the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) and has been widely adopted around the world, making it the most popular cellular network technology. GSM is used for a wide range of applications, including voice calls, text messaging and many more. The initial launch of mobile services based on GSM occurred in Finland in 1991, with the frequency band later expanding from 900 MHz to 1,800 MHz that same year. In 2010, GSM represented 80% of the global mobile market.

Let's have a look at the key features of GSM technology.

  • Global coverage: GSM networks are deployed in over 200 countries around the world, providing users with seamless connectivity when travelling.
  • Affordability: GSM is a relatively inexpensive cellular network technology, making it accessible to a wide range of users.
  • Reliability: GSM networks are generally very reliable, with minimal downtime.
  • Efficiency: GSM networks can efficiently use spectrum, which allows them to support a large number of users.
  • Circuit-switched and packet-switched data services: GSM supports both circuit-switched and packet-switched data services. Circuit-switched data services are used for voice calls and text messaging, while packet-switched data services are used for mobile internet access and other data applications.
  • Roaming: GSM allows users to roam between different GSM networks, ensuring continuous connectivity when travelling outside of their home network.


Launched in 1991, 2G refers to second-generation cellular networks and was based on the GSM standard. 2G is still widely used in IoT applications, especially for devices that require low power consumption and long battery life. 2G modules are also relatively inexpensive, making them a cost-effective option for many IoT applications. For example, IoT applications like asset tracking, smart meters, remote monitoring sensors, etc., use a 2G network.

Let's have a look at the key features of 2G technology.

  • Data speeds of up to 64 kbps: This made it possible for 2G networks to support new services such as text messages, multimedia messages, and picture messages.
  • Bandwidth of 30 to 200 kHz: This provided a foundation for 2G networks to offer a wide range of services.
  • Digital signal processing: This was a key feature that improved the quality and reliability of mobile communications.
  • Packet-switched domain: This was introduced in 2.5G networks, and it allowed for more efficient use of network resources and support for new data services.


3G, the third generation of cellular networks, was developed to improve mobile connectivity and speed. The first commercial 3G network was launched by Hutchison Telecommunications in June 2003 .3G devices can send and receive data much faster than 2G devices, allowing users to access the internet more quickly and easily from anywhere.

Let's have a look at the key features of 3G technology.

  • Higher data rates: 3G networks offer significantly higher data rates than 2G networks, enabling faster internet access, video streaming, and other data-intensive applications.
  • Improved voice quality: 3G networks also offer improved voice quality over 2G networks.
  • New services: 3G networks support a variety of new services, such as video calls, video conferencing, weather updates, and traffic access.
  • Global coverage: 3G networks are deployed worldwide, providing users with seamless connectivity when travelling.
  • Flexibility, scalability, security, and self-governance: 3G networks are designed to be flexible, scalable, secure, and self-governing, making them well-suited for a wide range of applications.


4G, the fourth generation of wireless technology, represents the latest breakthrough in broadband mobile communications. Launched in 2009, 4G offers an all IP-based integrated system capable of providing 100 Mbps for high mobility and 1 Gbps for low mobility. This cutting-edge technology delivers high-speed internet and seamlessly supports interactive multimedia, voice, video, wireless internet, and various other broadband services.

Let's have a look at the key features of 4G technology.

  • Ultra-fast data speeds: 4G networks can deliver data speeds of up to 1 Gbps, which is significantly faster than 3G networks. This makes it possible to stream high-definition video, play online games, and download large files at lightning speed.
  • Broadband internet access: 4G networks provide broadband internet access, even when you're on the go. This means you can stay connected and productive wherever you are.
  • Low latency: 4G networks have low latency, which means there's minimal delay between sending and receiving data. This makes it ideal for real-time applications such as video conferencing and online gaming.
  • Global coverage: 4G networks are deployed worldwide, providing users with seamless connectivity when traveling.


5G refers to fifth-generation cellular networks and is the latest generation of cellular technology. It is designed to provide significant improvements in data speeds, latency, and capacity over previous generations. 5G was first commercially launched in South Korea on April 3, 2019, by SK Telecom and KT Corporation. Since then, 5G networks have been launched in over 70 countries around the world. 5G is expected to revolutionize a wide range of industries and applications, including mobile broadband, IoT, and self-driving cars

Let's have a look at the key features of 5G technology.

  • Increased Speed: 5G offers significantly higher data transfer rates than previous generations, with peak speeds reaching up to 10 gigabits.
  • Lower Latency: One of the most important features of 5G is its low latency, meaning that data can be transmitted with minimal delay, making it ideal for applications requiring real-time responsiveness.
  • Increased Bandwidth and Capacity: 5G networks feature higher capacity and increased bandwidth compared to 4G, providing improved network performance and accommodating more connected devices.
  • Enhanced Security-Stronger security measures are available in 5G, including hardware security modules, key management services, and over-the-air security, offering improved protection compared to 4G LTE.
  • Support for Various Access Networks-Beyond cellular interworking, 5G can support access to the 5G Core through different access networks, including Wi-Fi.

Difference between GSM, 2G, 3G, 4G & 5G technologies

The table given below summarises the key features of the different cellular IoT technologies.

Cellular IoT Technology Data Rates Latency Cost Power Consumption
GSMUp to 9.6 kbps100-200 msRelatively inexpensiveLow
2GUp to 64 kbps100-200 msRelatively inexpensiveLow
3GUp to 2 Mbps50-100 msVariableVariable
4GUp to 1 Gbps10-20 msVariableVariable
5GUp to 10 Gbps1-10 msVariableVariable

Choosing the Right Technology for Your IoT Project

Let's have a look at the factors to consider when selecting the most suitable cellular technology for your IoT project.

  1. Data Requirements: Assess the volume of data your IoT devices need to transmit. While GSM and 2G are suitable for low-data applications, 3G, 4G, and 5G cater to higher data transfer needs.
  2. Latency: Consider the latency requirements of your application. For real-time applications like remote surgery or autonomous vehicles, 5G's low latency makes it an ideal choice.
  3. Coverage: Evaluate the geographical scope of your project. GSM and 2G offer widespread coverage, making them suitable for remote areas. 4G and 5G are ideal for urban environments with high device density.
  4. Device Density: If your project involves a massive number of connected devices, 5G's ability to support a high device density makes it a compelling option.


Deploying the IoT solution requires you to choose the right tool depending on what your project needs—be it reliability, more features, speedy connections, or the latest tech trends. It is crucial to understand the key features of GSM, 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G for making an informed decision. By aligning your project's requirements with the specific features of these technologies, you can easily deploy an IoT solution.

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