ITU blesses U.S. data networks as 4G

At a meeting earlier this month, the International Telecommunication Union reversed course and said that current U.S. "4G" technologies really are 4G.

For most of this year, "4G" has became the latest war-of-words battleground for U.S. carriers. But even as Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon Wireless rushed to outboast each other with claims of operating the best high-speed data network, the International Telecommunication Union declined to officially acknowledge their respective technologies as 4G.

The carriers, of course, never acknowledged that tidbit--admittedly, "not quite 4G" doesn't sound as exciting--but two weeks ago the ITU decided to cut them some slack anyway. At its December 6 meeting in Geneva, the ITU, an international standards body that officially designates wireless technologies, changed its stance and gave its blessing to Verizon's LTE and Sprint's WiMax networks.

"It is recognized that [4G], while undefined, may also be applied to the forerunners of these technologies, LTE and WiMax, and to other evolved 3G technologies providing a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third generation systems now deployed," the ITU said in a statement. An ITU spokesman in Geneva did not return calls for additional comment by the time of this writing.

A carefully worded statement, to be sure, but it also means that T-Mobile's HSPA+ technology will get a 4G designation as well. Though that likely won't sit well with T-Mobile's rivals, the carrier welcomed the news today even as it issued a statement claiming it had the fastest data network in 100 markets.

"We are pleased to see the ITU clarify its position," said Mark McDiarmid, T-Mobile's senior director for engineering and operations. "The ITU is a standards-setting organization and not a marketing organization. From our perspective this won't change how we talk to our consumers. People can walk into our store or any of our 4G competitors' stores and see for themselves that the Web experience is very different from what could be done on a mobile device seven or eight years ago."

Sprint spokeswoman Stephanie Vinge-Walsh told CNET she also was pleased with the news. "The ITU's view on WiMAX and LTE,though only one perspective, is consistent with the prevailing views throughout the U.S. wireless industry," she said. "Sprint has created a major revolution in wireless that's a generational leap from one level of technology to another."

Updated on December 20 at 10:04 p.m. PT with Sprint's statement.