I'm noticing an increasing use of the term 4G to describe either WiMAX or LTE networks.
It makes me wince, (although I've probably fallen into the "convenience trap" myself a couple of times).
Yes, they're both different to current versions of 3G, and use techniques like OFDMA - but so what? That doesn't make them 4G any more than it made EDGE (part of GSM) into 3G.
From a purist point of view, 4G doesn't yet exist. 3G refers to the families of technologies covered by the ITU's definition of "IMT 2000". 4G is expected to be the term used for the forthcoming "IMT Advanced" specifications currently being thrashed out by ITU, for which there are two prospective main candidates - LTE Advanced and WiMAX variant 802.16m.
Any use of the term 4G at present is therefore pure marketing fluff. A lot of WiMAX and LTE operators and device/network suppliers are fluffing, in an effort to come up with a brand that conveys evolution and new-ness.
The irony that the WiMAX community a huge amount of time and effort to convince ITU that their technology was in fact 3G (and therefore allowed to use IMT-2000 spectrum bands) seems to be ignored.
My instinctive reaction is to "deduct some credibility points" from the offenders when I see their announcements, or talk to their executives. If they are that sloppy that they mis-describe their technology, then surely it's reasonable to assume they're also sloppy about other aspects of their business?
Yet after a while, the practice may become so entrenched that even the more sensible participants have to wince, take a deep breath and mis-use the term 4G as well, so as not to lose out in the marketplace. If you can't beat them, you have to join them.
So, some solutions:
1) Any operator launching HSPA+ should also describe it as 4G. Well, if it's got MIMO, then it's *also* different from existing 3G. If the OFDMA guys are going to pick arbitrary definitions, then they can hardly complain when you do the same.
2) An operator with a brave PR department (and possibly a good legal team) should publicly take rivals to task for using 4G, using terms like "misleading", "lying", "sloppy" or "false advertising". Potentially, some of the current providers are on thin ice with regard to consumer protection law - although as the ITU hasn't yet called IMT-Advanced "4G" the response is probably that there's no strict definition in place.
3) Lobby the ITU to hurry up and call IMT-Advanced "4G" while it still has the ability to do so, before it gets lost in the marketing waffle.
As for me - well, I'm going to rely on the body language and non-verbal communications of people I speak to. If someone says 4G when describing their new LTE or WiMAX gizmo, but slightly winces, or rolls their eyes, or grits their teeth... then I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. But if they brazenly, unashamedly and unequivocally claim the 4G label for their 3G goods, I'll definitely be looking closely to find what else they've glossed over.
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