5:00 PM -- It's hard to avoid 4G these days. Watch TV, troll the Internet or travel around any major city in the U.S., and you'll see ads pushing faster wireless data services and devices using this amazing new wireless technology.
But, as we saw with the iPad launch, many users don't really know what Long Term Evolution (LTE) and fourth-generation (4G) wireless technology actually mean.
And who can blame them? Operators have played fast and loose with the term to try and get an edge over competitors. In part, that's thanks to the body that lays down the law on what 4G wireless actually is, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
The technical bit
4G wireless was originally supposed to refer to technologies that use Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing (OFDM) as the basis for the wireless speed boost. Capabilities required included maximum downlink speeds of 100Mbit/s when a user is on the move and up to 1Gbit/s for stationary downloads.
The ITU had designated LTE-Advanced and WiMax 2 as the only real 4G technologies, due to start arriving in operator's networks in 2013 at the earliest. In a press release in December 2010, however, the body said, "it is recognized 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."
So operators could say that technologies that had been called 3G are now labeled "4G," which is confusing for users, as we saw with AT&T Inc.'s re-labeling of the iPhone 4S as a "4G" phone.
So, here are the networks LR Mobile thinks can legitimately be counted as major 4G deployments in the U.S. in that they use the right OFDM technology to speed downloads and reduce the time it takes to set up data calls, allowing users to stream videos faster and upload photos more quickly to their social networks.
Table 1: Who offers what in the U.S.
||Where it�s at
||Average download speeds
||203 towns and cities
||5-12Mbit/s averages claimed on LTE downloads
||WiMax in 71 markets; LTE in six cities by mid-year 2012
||3-6Mbit/s on WiMax
||Coming in 2013
||13 cities and much of Florida
We haven't included high-speed packet access-plus (HSPA+) networks from AT&T and T-Mobile USA because, while fast, they are clearly derived from the 3G standards that the operators were already working with, even if they market them as 4G.
Get a snapshot of what's 4G and what's FauxG below:
— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Light Reading Mobile