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Thursday, 19 January 2012 09:21

Forget the hype - 4G has finally arrived, but only just


For years cellular mobile and WiMAX network operators along with their network and device suppliers have been touting their wireless broadband offerings as 4G, but the International Telecommunication Union has only just finalised the 4G standards.

The ITU announced yesterday, 18 January, that "Following a detailed evaluation against stringent technical and operational criteria, ITU has determined that 'LTE-Advanced' and 'WirelessMAN-Advanced' should be accorded the official designation of IMT-Advanced."

It added: "IMT-Advanced systems include new capabilities that go beyond IMT-2000, widely deployed since 2000 and referred to as 3G mobile technologies."

François Rancy, director of ITU's Radiocommunication Bureau, said, "IMT-Advanced would be like putting a fibre optic broadband connection on your mobile phone, making your phone at least 500 times faster than today's 3G smart phones.

"But it's not only about speed; it's about efficiency. IMT-Advanced will use radio-frequency spectrum much more efficiently making higher data transfers possible on lesser bandwidth. This will enable mobile networks to face the dramatic increase in data traffic that is expected in the coming years."

Since 2007 the ITU has repeatedly insisted that, in its terminology, all wireless technologies being touted as 4G are in fact 3G. In response to widespread misuse of the term the ITU issued a statement in December 2010 saying: "As the most advanced technologies currently defined for global wireless mobile broadband communications, IMT-Advanced is considered as '4G', although it is recognised that this term, while undefined, may also be applied to the forerunners of these technologies, LTE and WiMax, and to other evolved 3G technologies providing a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third generation systems now deployed."

Rather than this being seen as the ITU acknowledging the reality of widespread usage, it was accused of changing its rules and widening its definition of 4G in response to market pressures.

However in June 2011, IT director general, Hamadoun Touré, re-affirmed the ITU's position, He told news service Total Telecom that none of the technologies currently on offer complied with the ITU's fourth-generation mobile standard. He explained: "4G is the commercial term applied to the [ITU's] IMT-Advanced standard, which is currently met by LTE-Advanced and WiMAX-Advanced [technologies]."

Having misused the term for so long, when the industry introduces 'true' 4G technology it will no doubt create further confusion by calling it 5G.

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