On the Meaning of 4G

December 30th, 2010 by · 1 Comment

Last week, the ITU caved in and redefined 4G to be, well, pretty much anything that has ever claimed it.  So now whether one is talking about current implementations of WiMAX, HSPA+, or LTE, it’s all 4G now, officially even.  Until now there had been this simmering argument amongst the more standards oriented folks over whether any of these were really 4G or not.  But really, I don’t think anyone else cared.  The reason is simple.

4G is not a standard.  It’s not even a technology.  It is simply a term that helps describe the evolution of technology by making it seem discrete rather than continuous.  Think of it like a snow football field from when you were a kid.  You traced out the lines with your boots, then started the game.  After a while, the lines and the footprints merged and you just sort of remembered which were which until it was time to make a new field.  The term 4G was a line in the snow, and it’s gone now.  It doesn’t really matter where it used to be or even where it is now, we just need to draw a new one further down where nobody is yet.

ConnectedPlanet’s Kevin Fitchard says we should just chuck the ‘4G’ term entirely.  That’s hopeless.  The marketing guys have it tattooed on multiple body parts already, and that laser tattoo removal surgery is painful.  Nope, the only way to bury ‘4G’ is to start talking about, yes, 5G.  We need a new goal, because whatever we thought the next generation was going to be – we’re in it now.  But 5G as a term itself is a bit lame – the whole ‘G’ thing is old I guess.

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Categories: Wireless

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  • Jon says:

    Having done research on the cellular evolutionary standards in the past, I always found this whole issue annoying. ITU creates a standard, and operators liberally apply it as a marketing gimmick. Its surprising that the ITU has caved to this level, but you’re right. Who cares? They are a group of UN bureaucrats. Operators will continue to build out more and more advanced networks whether the ITU classifies them consistently or not.

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