Does the wireless alphabet soup matter?

Does the wireless alphabet soup matter?

Summary: Three weeks ago, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) dropped the bombshell and issued a press statement declaring in effect that current wireless standards are not technically qualified as 4G systems."ITU's Radio Communication Sector (ITU-R) has completed the assessment of six candidate submissions for the global 4G mobile wireless broadband technology, otherwise known as IMT-Advanced," noted a press release from ITU.

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Three weeks ago, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) dropped the bombshell and issued a press statement declaring in effect that current wireless standards are not technically qualified as 4G systems.

"ITU's Radio Communication Sector (ITU-R) has completed the assessment of six candidate submissions for the global 4G mobile wireless broadband technology, otherwise known as IMT-Advanced," noted a press release from ITU. "Harmonization among these proposals has resulted in two technologies, 'LTE-Advanced1' and 'WirelessMAN-Advanced2', being accorded the official designation of IMT-Advanced, qualifying them as true 4G technologies."

In a nutshell, the statement effectively isolated every other existing technology outside the two aforementioned as Fourth Generation (4G) technology.

As soon as the news hit the Internet, online publications, ranging from notable ones to personal blogs and forums, started lambasting current service providers, especially those which had publically and boldly proclaimed their respective wireless service, to date, have indeed been 4G certified.

Large operators around the world, led by the likes of Sprint and Verizon in the U.S. and Vodafone and O2 in the U.K., are now implicated as having exaggerated their service offerings in their marketing campaign.

The scenario here Malaysia isn't very much different. Ironically, the first instance of "4G" advertisements reaching our shores didn't even come from the cellular boys or the newer WiMax players.

In fact, it came from a little known player called Mobif, which was supposed to have rolled out a mobile broadband network based on a proprietary technology called iBurst at a cost of US$145 million.

Brandishing banners and buntings all over with markings that proclaimed that iBurst was a 4G-based technology, and branding its service name as "IzziNet," Mobif has since faded into oblivion.

Following closely on the heels of Mobif were the WiMax boys, which have proclaimed that their networks qualify as 4G systems. In fact, one player, Packet One Networks (P1) has just recently P1 rebranded itself from P1 W1Max to P1 4G.

And just last week, the latest player YTL Communications (YTL Comms) soft-launched its up-and-coming WiMax service called YES, proclaiming itself on Twitter to be a 4G provider.

So why do all these operators jump on the bandwagon and join the promotional wars to advertise themselves as having a 4G network? Should they even be proclaiming such messaging in their marketing literature and PR campaigns in the first place?

Perhaps the application of William Occam's Lex Parsimoniae--which simply states that the simplest explanation is more likely to be the correct one--is sufficient to explain why they do what they do.

Service providers advertise and market themselves as having 4G networks for the simple reason that the number "4" follows "3".

After all, if you think about it, the prime reason for any service provider to want to market themselves as having 4G-enabled technology is for them to stand out from the rest of the competition and proclaim that they have a leg-up on them.

In a hugely competitive space, the basic psyche of most technology service providers is to try their level best to portray themselves as the player that has the most advanced technology, and that they're able to deliver a product or service that is at the forefront of what is available to the market at that point in time.

Tech portal Gizmodo puts it most succinctly: "The fact is that there are no IMT-Advanced--or 4G--systems available or deployed at this stage. Calling their newer, faster networks '4G' is 'completely marketing' by the carriers."

As one having been involved in the wireless business before, I can accept that there is room for any marketing campaign put forward by a service provider to present some level of hype.

However, overselling a value proposition through marketing campaigns that stretches the truth just to make the point that a service provider is ahead of the rest of the competition isn't the way to go, and isn't good for the industry and market as a whole.

Ethical and legal ramifications aside as to whether service providers should be advertising in such a way in the first place, such marketing campaigns only serve to confuse the general public.

The average Joe public is simply not interested in jargon brought about by the wireless alphabet soup.

2G, 3G, WCDMA, WiMax, LTE, even true 4G standards like WirelessMAN, LTE-Advanced--what do all that mean to them?

Nothing.

By making the jargon the centerpiece of their campaigns, service providers have missed the woods for the trees.

At the end of the day, what consumers want is value in their service offering, quality and reliable service, the ability to connect with the body of information and knowledge on the Web and productivity to come out of their association with the Net.

On top of this, what they want is competent customer service and technical support that is able to fix their problems quickly if there are service problems. What they want is a competitively priced service offering.

Can any of the jargon espoused by these marketing promises meet these wants?

A rhetorical question indeed.

So instead of concentrating on upping the ante on its competitors by accentuating jargon and buzzwords, service providers would do well to go back to the raison d'etre for which they exist.

That is, to provide true value proposition that will empower the people who use their services, a value proposition that will be backed by superior reliability, usability and quality of service.

Topics: Networking, 4G, Mobility, Outsourcing, Wi-Fi, Social Enterprise

Edwin Yapp

About Edwin Yapp

An engineer by training, Edwin first cut his teeth as a cellular radio frequency optimization engineer in one of Malaysia's largest telcos.
After more than five years, he hung up his radio engineering boots to try his hand at technology reporting at The Star, Malaysia's leading English daily, where he won several awards for Best Online Technology reporting.
He left to start his own editorial consultancy and is now a freelance journalist for several publications, including ZDNet Asia.
A self-confessed gadget geek, Edwin hopes his blog contributions will stir up deeper discussions within the Malaysian technology scene.

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3 comments
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  • Yup, what will consumer would like to find out is the best service and value to money but not the those techie words in Ads.
    JasonChin
  • well said man, well said.
    warbaby-18b1d
  • Service providers should not short change consumers, even if it means putting a false face value on the quality of service they offer
    zafiruyassin