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Let's just chuck the term 4G—it's meaningless

The ITU has redefined 4G all the way back to HSPA+, rubber stamping the marketing claims of the operators. It’s time we just called network technologies what they are rather than trying to lump them into a meaningless term.

The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has changed its definitions of 4G, bringing not just WiMax and long-term evolution (LTE) under the umbrella of 4th generation, but also evolved 3G technologies like high-speed packet access plus (HSPA+). Now all is clear in the world of wireless right? Not really. The ITU just made a bigger muddle.

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By caving to the commercial operators, the ITU has shown that if its definitions of what constitutes 3G or 4G weren’t arbitrary beforehand they most certainly are now. The ITU was providing technical specifications, while the operators were trying to gain an edge by using the term 4G as marketing tool. But by redefining those specifications, the ITU has basically abdicated whatever role it had in setting technical benchmarks, instead becoming a rubber stamp for whatever the marketing whims of the operators.

This whole argument over what was truly 3G or 4G was stupid in the first place. The ITU should have just stayed out of it, using its 4G definitions for whatever purpose they served, while letting the operators claim whatever they felt like. Things like cost, reliability, coverage and bandwidth would have ultimately have proven out who had the best—the most ‘4G’, if you will—network on the market. Instead the ITU has managed to lend a veneer of legitimacy to what was essentially commercial advertising dross from the operators.

This has become a pointless semantics exercise and I for one am throwing in the towel. For the last several years I, as have all of my colleagues in the wireless trade media, have tried to find some happy medium, a way of using the term 4G constructively to explain new technologies, new networks and new services consistently. I now realize that’s an impossible goal, so I’m dropping 4G as a neutral term from stories entirely. From now on Sprint (NYSE:S) and Clearwire (NASDAQ:CLWR) have WiMax networks, T-Mobile (NYSE:DT) has HSPA+ networks and Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ, NYSE:VOD) has LTE networks.

Our readers are smart enough to know the differences and similarities between them so I won’t insult your intelligence by continuing to use a terms like 3G and 4G that have completely lost all meaning. If I have to lump all of those technologies together I’ll do it under the umbrella of ‘mobile broadband’. It seems fair to me, but if you have a better idea, I’d love to hear it.

Of course, we won’t be able to escape the term 4G entirely. Operators and their executives will continue to use and market it, and I’ll continue to quote them. I won’t excise the term 4G from the names of their services or their attributable descriptions. And when there is a fight between the operators over what constitutes 4G, we’ll report the context.

But what I won’t do anymore is use 4G as a blanket term for all things mobile broadband.

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© 2014 Penton Media Inc.

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