4G Mobile Network Looms Both Near and Far

In October 2009, Information Display published "The Approach of 4G," which looked at what the next generation in mobile networks had to offer and when it would become available. In short, 4G would be fast, as much as 3–5 times faster than what was currently available and would enable all the mobile Internet applications that carriers were sure end users wanted – seamless access to movies, web browsing, etc. At the time, consensus among industry experts was that, despite excited pronouncements from carriers, 4G was a long way off. Only about 25% of users were even taking advantage of the previous generation, 3G.

A year and a few months later, even though market penetration of 3G remains at about 25% or just slightly higher,1 4G is here – and it is still a long way off. If that sounds confusing, it is. Carriers have begun to roll out 4G service and products. Verizon, for example, launched its 4G network in the U.S. in December 2010, along with at least one 4G-compatible phone, the LG LV600.2According to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, 4G in general has been working better than anticipated.3

However, many industry pundits are claiming that the current "4G" service is not 4G at all because the ITU (International Telecommunications Union) announced a set of standards for 4G in October 2010 that are not what any carrier is currently capable of – such as download speeds of 100 Mbps.4 According to a recent article by David Goldman from CNN Money.com, which refers to the 4G phenomenon as a "confusing mess," even the fastest current 4G network is only capable of speeds somewhat over a tenth of 100 Mbps.5

However, the term "4G" has been around well before the ITU's recent determination, and U.S. carriers do not seem, at least on the surface, to be concerned with the ITU's standards. It seems that carriers are choosing to view "4G" as "fourth generation" in terms of faster than the last generation rather than a label of specific capabilities. For that reason, and also because the appearance of 4G before 3G has penetrated even a third of the market could conceivably lead to consumer confusion and subsequent buyer paralysis, industry experts predict that the term "4G" may disappear from marketing parlance in the near future. As for now, if you sign up for 4G service, you will not be downloading movies at 100 Mbps, but you will have faster service than you did before.








— Jenny Donelan