If you were annoyed with the AT&T vs. Verizon marketing battle over who has the most 3G coverage in the US, you may want to hibernate for the next few years. Carriers are gearing up to roll out 4G networks soon and the respective marketing teams are preparing for battle. In fact, they’re already grossly over-exaggerating their offerings. For starters, carriers are touting their new 4G wireless, which should be available relatively soon in the US (end of the year for Verizon, mid-2011 for AT&T). Sprint already offers “4G” WiMAX and regional carrier MetroPCS recently unveiled the first “4G” LTE network in the US. But there’s a problem. 4G doesn’t exist yet.
The International Telecommunication Union, who officially determine what is considered 4G (and 3G, for that matter), have not finalized the standard. Actually, they won’t have it finalized until at least next year. So how could carriers be offering me 4G right now if the standard has not been determined? Glad you asked… they can’t. Several marketing departments have clued in to this slight untruth and are now offering mobile broadband at “4G speeds” rather than simply saying they offer 4G connectivity. Sprint’s new ad claims that the company is the first to offer devices that download “at the speed of 4G.” Clever. But still, what is the speed of 4G if it doesn’t exist yet?
The 4G standard will likely call for a minimum speed of 1 to 1.5 Gbps, something current networks have not achieved yet. The first networks to support these speeds will use either WiMAX 2 or LTE-Advanced, both of which won’t be available until late 2011 or early 2012. But battle lines are already being drawn. In the US, LTE is backed by Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, while WiMAX is supported by Intel, Comcast, Clearwire, and Sprint. Unless carriers find an affordable way to blend or overlay the two differing technologies, expect a marketing battle of epic proportions.