Several months back a few publications ran stories that went after the claims by AT&T that they were providing phones and service that could be defined as “4G” when these phones were in fact not quite 4G.
Since the HTC 4G Android phone lineup is expanding, it’s a good time to find out what 4G really is, and whether or not any of these companies are attempting to deceive consumers in anyway. The mission actually drove me to try and get an answer to the even bigger question of what exactly defines the difference between 2G, 3G, 4G, et cetera.
It turns out that the ITU-R, or the International Telecommunications Union Radiocommunication Sector, is who decides what defines the difference between mobile technology generations. They base these titles on speed-while-mobile versus speed-when-still: when the ITU-R decided what can be considered 4G, they defined it as devices that can receive/relay 100 Mbit/s when in fast motion such as a train or car and 1Gbit/s when the user is walking or sitting down. They also outline expectations for security.
But there is no such thing as definitive “3G” or “4G” – these are for all intents and purposes simplified differentiations utilized by mobile phone marketers. Everybody more or less runs on their different methods of achieving the speeds and security necessary to be considered “3G” or otherwise. This has created some serious room for debate among many people who consider the definition as nothing but an authoritative-sounding marketing ploy.
The reason being that companies, being left to their own devices to achieve the necessary requirements to be called 4G, are releasing phones marketed as part of the 4G that are in fact simply highly-advanced 3G technology. But that, they would argue, is the nature of the beast. Nobody can pinpoint when exactly a phone or a service enters a new generation. Whenever parts of the 4G achievement are met, that’s often good enough for a company such as AT&T to potentially pass along a phone marketed as 4G that might be a little bit faster than the average 3G phone and reach 1Gbit/s, but is actually not what the ITU-R would classify as 4G
The ITU-R, like most facets of the UN, is not a governing body as far as individual nations are concerned, so there’s virtually no illegality in a company calling their phones and networks 4G. You have to do your research before buying a phone marketed in such a way. Many are as strong as the ITU-R has defined as 4G, but it’s still uncharted territory and it can be argued that none are yet truly 4G because such a thing, 3G, 4G, or otherwise, doesn’t really exist in the first place. It’s just a guideline, one you should use when choosing the latest generation of smartphone and service.