What G? Fone fraction fragmentation

Think of a number

Ready for 4G? Unstrung's Justin Springham shares our bafflement at the appropriation of the term in a recent column> for the online wireless mag. He points out that 4G has to date meant the as yet undefined successor to 3G, loosely scheduled to come on stream as many of the ten year 3G licenses expire in 2012.

The 4G comes from Flarion, which has been fast-tracking itself as the successor to W-CDMA for some months. Flarion hopes that its highly-regarded OFDM (Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiplexing) technology will be the basis of the official ITU standard, but for now its best bet is operators who have shunned either the GSM/GPRS track or Qualcomm's CDMA path. Nextel, one of a handful of carriers to adopt Motorola's IDEN standard, has been touted as a potential Flarion win.

There are only two major standards settings bodies that count. The ITU, which standardizes what the phone industry uses, and the IEEE, the engineers' trade association. The industry incumbents participate in the latter's standards tracks, as much to keep an eye on them as anything else. In both cases, things to take a very long time evolve indeed - 802.11 took years to ratify - and the engineers' own mobile phone track 802.20 is a far away on over the horizon. Once ratified, it still needs the ITU's blessing.

But Flarion isn't the only cellular specification in search of a number. We'll increasingly be hearing about "2.75G ", particularly in the United States and from carriers who missed out on 3G investments. Nokia says that its EDGE upgrade to GPRS triples the bandwidth, and that it has been selling EDGE-capable infrastructure since 2001. A new handset is required to take advantage of the extra speed, but existing GSM/GPRS handsets will work fine.

And Ubinetics has begun to describe its implementation of 3G's HSDPA (High-Speed Downlink Packet Access) upgrade - which is a standard - as "3.5G". Being trailed in Japan now, the company modestly suggests: " Ubinetics is calling HSDPA - 3.5G technology - although this is not widespread knowledge at the current time."

So now you know. ®

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