Wireless operators continue to roll out mobile networks built with acronym-heavy standards such as 4G, Long Term Evolution (LTE), IEEE 802.16 (WiMAX) or HSPA+. Stacey Higginbotham at GigaOM says it’s hardly a surprise that every press release is touting 4G, which presumably stands for the fourth generation wireless network. Only, according to InfoWorld, the truth is, neither WiMax nor LTE qualify as 4G technologies, according to the International Telecommunications Union Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R). For a service to be called 4G by the ITU-R carriers will have to use one of two future mobile wireless technologies.
GigaOM reports that in October 2009, the ITU fielded 6 candidates that could meet the true definition of 4G mobile wireless. The main criteria required speed boosts, but more importantly, new technologies that make more efficient use of spectrum, as well as an ability to work with other radio access systems and fixed wireline networks. The standard also requires that equipment makers offer features that will help guarantee quality of service on wireless networks. Of the 6 candidates, the ITU declared the upcoming called LTE-Advanced and WirelessMAN-Advanced – also known as IEEE 802.16m the only true 4G mobile wireless technologies.
True 4G wireless calls for peak speeds of 100 Mbps for mobile applications and 1 Gigabit per second for fixed networks. To do such speeds, operators will need five to ten times as much spectrum as most are using now to deploy LTE, as well as complex antenna configurations. The new 8×8 MIMO will need some new antennas at the tower and inside the mobile devices. Some operators won’t ever get to that point. Others might, but it’s going to take four or five years before people start rolling out anything like the ITU’s version of 4G mobile wireless according to the GigaOm article.
The faux 4G we are getting now, comes in three flavors thanks to a bold marketing effort by T-Mobile writes Ms. Higginbotham. T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network is most assuredly 3G (or maybe 3.5G for some) but as its CTO, Neville Ray, argued with GigaOM founder Om Malik, its real-world mobile wireless speeds are better than those offered by WiMAX and are comparable to the real-world expectations of Verizon’s LTE network. The key to T-Mo’s experience lies in its spectrum resources. As a general rule, the more spectrum an operator has, the more lanes in its highway it can cram bits into. The blog says T-Mobile can use that spectrum to increase capacity or increase speeds. With plans to move from 21 Mbps to 42 Mbps speeds using HSPA+, T-Mo is going for speed to keep up with the wireless mobile Jones.
Laptop reports that other mobile wireless operators do not qualify as 4G either. “… Sprint and Clearwire’s Mobile WiMax (3 to 6 Mbps), T-Mobile’s HSPA+ (5 to 8 Mbps), and even Verizon Wireless’ LTE network (5 to 12 Mbps) don’t even come close to deserving the 4G moniker.”
After all, marketers pushing LTE first starting waving the 4G mobile wireless flag several years ago, despite the ITU hadn’t yet decided if LTE was 4G. The first releases wasn’t. We’ll have to wait for LTE-Advanced in about four or five years for true 4G. By then, it’s possible we’ll be dealing with 5G mobile wireless networks or something even better the marketers dream up. In the meantime, consumers will buy their faux 4G mobile wireless phones for their faux 4G mobile wireless networks and never sweat the difference GigaOm speculates.
The faux 4G networks are incremental improvements over 3G. As Tolaga Research analyst Phil Marshall told InfoWorld, these wireless mobile networks were designed from day 1 for data, and are all Internet protocol (IP) from end to end. That’s a huge improvement over 3G and it’s a marked change. Despite the improved architecture, Wi-Fi Net News asks if the spectrum is available to meet the 2015 rollout for real 4G. “It looks like the maximum speeds being discussed require extremely wide channels, like 100 MHz. That’s not impossible, but no U.S. carrier has 100 MHz in a chunk that it materialize. The FCC white-spaces rulemaking frees up a bunch of 6 MHz pieces, and that’s the last major realignment after DTV 700 MHz spectrum that I’m aware of.The definition of 4G may now be set, but the ability to roll out 4G at anything like the minimum speeds promised seems highly problematic even in five years.”
- Faux G (economist.com)