Oct 21st, 2010

It was recently announced by ITU – an authority in cellular technology – that most high speed data networks today aren’t really considered 4G as most advertisers would have you believe. In the US alone, ITU’s IMT-Advanced specification – what grants a network the right to be called 4G, 3G, or whatever “G” – does not accept any of the current or forthcoming networks from the 4 big carriers as 4G. Going even further than that, Sprint’s and Verizon’s networks aren’t technically considered 3G networks either. Why would that be, you say?


We’ve reached out to someone knowledgeable on the subject – technology aficionado, guru, and madman David C Bauman – to get more of an idea on why. Read on for his insightful commentary.

What’s in a G? In today’s modern world, many people’s lifestyles depend on 3 of them, but few understand what makes one up. Around 2001, the first true 3G standard surfaced: UMTS, by the 3GPP. This was followed quickly by CDMA2000, in 2002, by the 3GPP2, and both are considered part of the International Mobile Telecommunications-2000 (IMT-2000) standards for mobile phones and data services, under the International Telecommunication Union chartered by the United Nations. 3G is a world-wide standard, similar to how a kilogram is the same in England as it is in Japan. Standards are important, and guarantee specific services from products claiming to be compatible with them.

Taylor over at androidandme.com recently blew the whistle on T-Mobile’s Project Emerald, which will bring up the marketing hype behind their nation-wide HSPA+ rollout behind the 4G moniker. Why are they making this obviously false claim? HSPA+ is still a 3G technology, after all. Sometimes, the only way to fight misinformation is with misinformation.

T-Mobile is obviously responding in kind to Sprint and Verizon, who are touting their new 4G networks. Sprint has turned up its WiMAX solution to cover over 40 million users already, while Verizon has not been shy about announcing their plans to blanket the nation with their LTE solution starting at the end of 2010. T-Mobile’s planned HSPA+ network is capable of matching or exceeding the speeds of both Sprint’s planned WiMAX network and Verizon’s planned LTE network. How can 3G and 4G be equal, though? Somebody’s obviously playing dirty pool. T-Mobile’s network isn’t 4G as defined by ITU-R’s IMT-Advanced specification, which requires 1 Gbps of throughput between stationary objects, and 100 Mbps to objects in motion, with tower to tower handoffs. Technically, HSPA+ isn’t capable of even half those speeds, and certainly doesn’t meet the rest of the IMT Advanced specification, which is why HSPA+ isn’t a 4G technology. Sprint’s WiMAX deployment, however, isn’t a 4G technology either, nor is Verizon’s LTE. They’re 3G Transitional, or, 3.9G. HSPA+ is a 3.75G – both are above the straight 3G specification, but all of them fall way short of the 4G standard.

Looking even deeper into the IMT-2000 specification, it’s worth noting that while CDMA2000 is a 3G technology, for a network to be classified as 3G-capable, it must support simultaneous voice and data service usage, something that neither Sprint nor Verizon can claim across their CDMA deployment. Even though they’re touting a 4G network, they don’t even have a 3G one that spans 100 feet, let alone coast to coast. Sprint’s WiMAX solution meets all the criteria for a 3G network, allowing simultaneous voice and data, and Verizon is in the testing stages of a new CDMA standard called SVDO, which will allow for simultaneous voice + data over their existing network (which is currently EVDO Rev A), but until that goes live in 2011, they may be the largest national carrier but they’re a G short of everybody else, anywhere.

With every provider lying about standards, network types, and coverage offered, the entire American mobile industry seems to be misrepresenting something or other, and the consumers are left out in the cold. Marketing has confused many, and any semblance of standards has been pushed aside. Maybe I’m splitting hairs, here, but it feels like I’m paying for a kilogram, being told I’m getting a kilogram, and when I get home, I’m a pound short.

David has been an avid android enthusiast for two years, and a journalist for 13, reporting on everything from technology to gaming, and currently holds degrees in sarcasm and communications. He also just so happens to be a Computer and Network Security and Communications Technician and one hardcore hacker. You can follow David on Twitter by clicking here and check out his website by clicking here.

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