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WiMAX and LTE grab 4G moniker

Talkin' 'bout MY generation

The ITU has decided that both LTE and WiMAX may be known as "4G" technologies, despite neither properly qualifying as part of the fourth generation of mobile technologies.

The International Telecommunications Union decided in November that only LTE-Advanced and its WiMAX equivalent (WirelessMAN-Advanced2) offered enough speed to qualify as fourth-generation technologies, but with network operators already playing fast and loose with the term the ITU has now decreed that the preceding technologies can also be known as 4G networks.

While the separation between the first generation; analogue, and second generation; digital, networks is clearly defined, their descendants have a less radical evolution with a handful of technologies sitting uncomfortably between generations as engineers developed incremental progressions, and marketeers sought revolutionary claims.

Those marketeers sought so many revolutions they were forced to subdivide the generations, introducing "2.5G", "3.75G" and so forth, despite the terms having no meaning at all. presents a particularly good example from a T-Mobile advertisement.

The ITU makes specific requirements of a technology before it will bestow a generational change, creating definitions based on speed that, for example, allow GSM EDGE to slip in to the definition of 3G (and thus enabling Apple to claim that even the first iPhone was a 3G device) despite the fact that no-one outside the industry considers EDGE to be a 3G technology.

When it comes to 4G the discrepancy is the other way - only LTE-Advanced and WirelessMAN-Advanced2 fit the profile for 4G as defined by the ITU (100Mb/sec in motion, 1Gb/sec when stationary), but that hardly matters when everyone outside the ITU (including this publication) is already referring to both ordinary LTE and WiMAX as 4G technologies.

So the ITU has relented, admitting that "it is recognized that [4G] ... may also be applied to ... LTE and WiMax". But not content with stopping there, the ITU admits that the term may also be used to refer to "other evolved 3G technologies", basically giving the marketeers free rein to use the term as they feel fit.

Which is what they where going to do anyway, of course. The ITU has no power to prevent anyone calling their technology 4G, 5G or anything else they like. This change in policy will simply prevent the few geeks who thought they knew better from pointing the use of incorrect generational terms out to others who don't really care anyway. ®

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