4G or not 4G? The telecoms standards boffins in charge of 4G have ruled WiMax and LTE don't make the grade.
Richard TrenholmFormer Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
The next generations of phone network haven't made a big enough advance to qualify as 4G, according to a global telecoms standards body. The International Telecommunication Union Radiocommunication Sector (ITU-R) has ruled that neither WiMax or LTE, the technologies currently loosely marketed as 4G, aren't sufficiently faster than 3G to be worthy of the extra digit.
The ITU has decided what kind of peak data speeds a network must be able to hit to qualify for the IMT-Advance standard, the official name for 4G. A network's data rates must hit 100Mbps for high-mobility access like surfing the Web while out and about, and 1Gbps for low mobility like local wireless access. The current top-speed systems available to consumers, WiMax and LTE, don't make the grade: only LTE-Advanced and the next generation of WiMax will qualify as 4G.
LTE-Advanced and WiMax 2 will be the first networks to be based entirely on data rather than carrying a combination of voice and data.
Neither technology is on sale yet, but they're in the post: products using WiMax 2 should launch late next year after the underlying technology -- WirelessMAN-Advanced, also known as IEEE 802.16m -- is ratified this year. Still, consumers won't actually be using either technology until 2014 or 2015. Currently, LTE, or Long-Term Evolution, looks like the front-runner.
TeliaSonera has launched LTE in selected Scandinavian cities, while Verizon plans to launch its LTE network stateside before the end of the year. Meanwhile we haven't got much further than individual trials of LTE or WiMax, including in Slough. The 4G label will still hang around despite the ITU's decision, as it's something of a marketing buzzword. What else are they going to call it -- 3-and-a-bit-G?