According to a recent survey, 34 per cent of iPhone users in the US wrongly believe that they already have 4G. With all the marketing going around, I wouldn't be surprised if people here thought the same.
The survey, published on Mashable yesterday, revealed that there was a lot of confusion, not just for iPhone users but also those wielding Android and BlackBerry devices, over whether they had 4G services or not.
And who can blame them? A number of telcos in the US are a bit like Telstra and NBN Co in Australia, and they market their Long Term Evolution (LTE) products as being "4G", receiving the corresponding headlines.
The official international body that decides these things — the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) — also raised a bit of confusion last year with a press release that many interpreted as meaning that LTE, WiMAX and HSPA+ technologies such as those deployed in the US could now be considered as being "4G".
But the truth is that none of the above technologies are really considered to be 4G. When I raised an inquiry with the ITU about its confusing press release earlier this week, the ITU said that only LTE-Advanced and WirelessMAX-Advanced technologies correspond to the ITU's definition of 4G:
The term "4G" itself remains undefined but it is being applied by operators to the forerunners of IMT-Advanced technologies, such as LTE and WiMax, and other evolved 3G technologies. However, IMT-Advanced, incorporating the most advanced technologies currently defined for global wireless mobile broadband communications, is considered as "4G".
So, in other words, the ITU is aware that companies are marketing their LTE, WiMAX and HSPA+ technologies as 4G, but that doesn't mean that they're actually 4G.
The ITU expects to provide detailed specifications of IMT-Advanced (4G) technologies in a new recommendation in early 2012, but for now, the basic requirements to be considered as 4G are:
- a high degree of functionality, flexibility and efficiency;
- compatibility with existing networks;
- capability to work with other radio access systems;
- availability of user equipment worldwide;
- worldwide roaming ability; and
- peak data rates of up to 1 gigabit per second in stationary situations and 100Mbps in mobile situations.
Above all else, it has to be a major advancement on traditional 3G technologies in use today.
Although the LTE deployment Telstra to be rolled out at the end of the year will be a big boost in data downloads, users will not be able to get up to 1Gbps services; at Telstra's own trials of LTE technology, the most it was ever able to achieve was around 149.4Mbps in a stationary situation. In NBN Co's case, the most that users will get, when services are launched, is 12Mbps.
LTE is a step in the right direction for faster data on mobile networks, but it's a long way off 4G.