Huawei: 4G or Not 4G?
There's one main problem with Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. 's claim that it has won the contract to supply the "world’s first commercial 4G/LTE network" for TeliaSonera AB (Nasdaq: TLSN) in Oslo, Norway. (See Huawei Wins LTE Deal and TeliaSonera: We'll Do 4G in 2010.)
Simply put, there is no defined standard for fourth generation (4G) networks yet from the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) , the organization that actually gets to define "4G."
In July last year the trade body issued its technical requirements for "IMT-Advanced" – the ITU's official term for 4G. It said it would take specification submissions from October 2008 and into 2009, and then start work on defining the standard. (See ITU Approves New 4G Specs.)
So, even if Huawei can meet the technical requirements of 4G, it's highly unlikely that a standard will be set in stone by the time the TeliaSonera network is deployed.
In addition, the expected technical requirements of true 4G standards are set to be beyond the current capabilities of mobile WiMax or LTE (Long-Term Evolution). (See 4G: What & When.)
The ITU said its IMT-Advanced specification will call for 100 Mbit/s downloads and a 1 Gbit/s link for stationary or local area connections. Unstrung has been told in the past that this will require very low latency on wireless connections – less than 100 milliseconds to set up a new session – and super-fat channels, at least 40 Mhz apiece.
By these criteria, nothing out there, and likely nothing coming down the pipe in the next several years, will be able to claim true 4G status. The ITU has said two specifications, 802.16m (or WiMax 2) and LTE-Advanced, will be considered, and it's also possible that the Chinese government will submit its own specification for consideration.
Meanwhile, NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (Korea: SEC) have come closest to the speed goals. NTT hit 250 Mbit/s with its "Super 3G" tests, and Samsung has demonstrated a 100-Mbit/s mobile connection in a bus being driven round Jeju Island in South Korea at speeds of up to 38 miles per hour, using its WiBro technology. (See DoCoMo Tests 'Super 3G' and Samsung: 4G Speed King.)
Once deployed, LTE is set to provide real-world, average downlink data rates of 34 Mbit/s and uplinks of about 7.3 Mbit/s, compared with the real-world, average HSPA downlink rate of about 7 Mbit/s and uplink of 2.6 Mbit/s, Heavy Reading analyst Gabriel Brown says in a recent report. Fast as hell, but nowhere close to the ITU requirements for IMT-Advanced. (See Operators Face LTE Deployment Dilemma and LTE Base Station Strategies.)
Of course, Huawei isn't alone in trying to wrap itself in 4G colors. Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) referred to its Xohm WiMax service launches as "4G," Nortel Networks Ltd. talked up its "4G strategy," and many others have followed suit. (See Sprint Launches XOHM and Nortel Demos LTE.) [Ed note: That worked real well for Sprint and Nortel, didn't it? See Sprint Slashes 8,000 Jobs, Nortel Files for Bankruptcy Protection, and The Decline & Fall of Nortel Networks.]
Even Unstrung has been known to use the designation in a headline or story once in a while. Typically, though, we tend to use "pre-4G", "proto-4G," or "wireless broadband" when writing about the technology whenever possible.
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung