OK, we all know 3G and 4G. What was 1G?

We talk all the time about 3G and 4G. We even mention 5G every so often. These cellular standards may be full of confusing technical jargon, but it boils down to, if you’re not getting 4G service, you’re barely on the internet. Some folks may remember “2G” service although it was rarely called that at the time. It was actually the first generation of mobile internet. Before that, you know, we used our phones to make calls (how quaint.)

But we’ve all but forgotten about what we now refer to as “1G.” We didn’t call it that then, in fact most people just called it “cell phone service.” Its official term was “Advanced Mobile Phone Service” or AMPS. It’s the cellular network that connected big brick phones like the one at the top of this article. It was quite a technological marvel in the 1980s, which is why they called it “Advanced.”

AMPS was a totally analog technology that required a lot of transmit power from the phones, and was far more prone to static and lost calls than today’s phones. Being analog, it also got “clogged up” more since the analog signals took up more bandwidth than today’s digital voice calls. Still, it beat the previous system, which was intended mostly for marine operations and relied on a radio operator at a home base to patch radio transmissions into the telephone system. AMPS was the first system to properly called “telephony” because it allowed the user to make and take calls without an operator in a fixed location acting as a relay.

As cell phones dropped in price and increased in popularity in the 1990s, it became obvious a new standard was needed that combined digital transmissions and low power usage. This would allow phones to get smaller and lighter and back in the days of voice-only calls, it wasn’t uncommon to go 5 days without a charge. New digital standards like GSM, TDMA and CDMA were introduced as “2G” technologies, and those voice standards are still in use (in a modified form) today.

AMPS is the only system to be completely discontinued in the US. As of 2008, carriers were no longer required to support it and since then, all analog equipment has been removed and replaced with digital. This brings with it advanced data services which is what we all want from our phones today. It’s fair to say no one misses AMPS very much, except perhaps the people who invented it.

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 8,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.