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The Thing About 4G

Dan Jones
2/27/2007

We've entered the rinse-and-repeat cycle of hype about so-called fourth generation — or 4G — wireless networks. That's where every new little snippet of information about this new network technology gets breathlessly reported and then endlessly chewed over by the myriad of pundits that this industry supports.

Witness the reaction to my recent story on the 802.16m specification, which may eventually become a future WiMax standard. It has spawned a host of other news stories from other pubs and is still one of the most popular stories on our site. Not bad for a piece that basically revealed what was already in plain sight on the IEEE website, if you knew where to look.

That indicates to me that people are hungry for any and all details on this thing called 4G. Even if they happen to be fairly dry and dusty technical debates on a faster, better way of wireless networking in 2009 or so.

That's also why it might be a good idea to notch back the hype cycle from "hot" to "cool" when talking about 4G. This stuff isn't going to really happen for years and years.

Think back for a second to the dawn of third generation (3G) wireless networks. The press and the industry started talking about 3G trials and test networks in the U.S. in the late nineties. Yet what could be considered true 3G networks have only really arrived on these shores in the last couple of years. Verizon Wireless only started making serious money on wireless data last year.

We're not even really at the trial and testing stage with 4G yet. In fact, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) hasn't even really defined what 4G is yet. Currently the telecom body defines 4G as a wireless networking that delivers 100 Mbit/s or more. It looks likely that this will be achieved by networks based on OFDM (orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing) technology. Samsung Corp. and NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) are among the leaders in this field at the moment. That, however, is about all that can be said with certainitity. The ITU isn't expected to define its advanced 4G air interface until 2008. (See 4G: What & When.)

This suggests to me that we might be using what could truly be considered a 4G network, oh, say some time in 2013, and carriers better be ready to eke every last dollar out of their 3G investments while we wait for the new, new thing.

— Dan Jones, Site Editor, Unstrung

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