Super 3G is a super distraction

The telecoms industry should concentrate on getting existing 3G services up to scratch rather than expounding the possibilities of even faster technology

Keen as we are to see the inexorable march of progress burn a path of light and innovation, sometimes relentless forward motion can actually send you backwards.

The news this week that several high-profile telecoms players have agreed to begin development of 'Super 3G' technology seems like a classic example of the tech industry running away with itself.

With mild-mannered Clark Kent-style 3G still struggling to transition from a niche consumer technology to mainstream adoption it seems a little premature to start discussing the next new, new thing. True, if it comes to fruition then Super 3G could offer data rates up to ten times that of existing 3G services, but that's a big 'if'.

The UK's existing 3G services are still in their infancy, having only been operational for a matter of months, with the exception of those belonging to 3.

The R&D budget being diverted into Super 3G by the likes of NTT DoCoMo, Vodafone, Cingular, Seimens and Alcatel would be better spent improving existing 3G technology which is a long way from being a mature technology.

Despite having been first to market with its consumer 3G service in 2003, 3 has been heavily criticised for the reliability of its service. Similarly the 3G data cards launched last year by Vodafone, Orange, T-Mobile and O2 -- aimed at providing high-speed connectivity to mobile workers – still have a lot of teething problems. Lab-based and real-world testing by ZDNet UK has shown the 3G coverage to be fairly patchy outside major metropolitan areas.

Vodafone especially runs the risk of over-extending itself with ambitious plans to launch Super 3G services and products in the next four years despite looming deadlines for existing 3G services. Under the terms of the 3G licences auctioned by the UK government in 2000, licence-holders must be able to reach at least 80 percent of the UK population with their 3G networks by the end of 2007, yet Vodafone can only claim 60 percent coverage right now.

Throwing the term Super 3G out into the collective consciousness at this stage also threatens to confuse a populace already struggling with the implications of the existing 3G term, not to mention 4G. The exact relationship between Super 3G and 4G isn't clear and is likely to remain that way for some time, but let's hope the telecoms companies get their stories straight before the marketers seize on the innovative potential of the number 5.

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