The term 4G plunged to new depths of meaninglessness yesterday as America’s second largest wireless carrier, AT&T, suddenly decided that what was once a 3G network has evolved all by itself into a 4G network.
It was just in September that the firm was labelling its HSPA-plus network as third generation, though now it seems that the AT&T marketing department has succumbed to the prevailing outlandish claims of competitors by declaring that its own network has joined the 4G club, announcing that it has "the nation's fastest mobile broadband network” rather the fastest 3G network.
Fourth generation wireless technology is said to promise mobile internet speeds that are considerably faster than what current networks can offer, meaning quick downloads of massive files and super-fast video streaming.
Of course there is no consensus of what exact speed constitutes a 4G network, so companies are to a certain extent free to claim what they want, though as far as consumers are concerned they may as well be heralding the arrival of a new 4,624G network for all it means.
AT&T will have a more advanced network in place with the implementation of its Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology, though this won’t feature widespread coverage for at least another year.
However according to Reuters AT&T’s chief exec Ralph de la Vega believes that consumers won’t notice the difference between HSPA-plus and the forthcoming LTE network stating that "The whole industry has come to equate more speed with 4G.”
To be fair to AT&T, its hand may have been forced to a certain extent with other firms such as T-Mobile prematurely claiming that their own networks have made the jump to the next generation of speed. In fact an ad campaign by T-Mobile from late last year made a direct attack on AT&T, defining its own ‘4G’ network in opposition to AT&T.
But with AT&T announcing that it will be releasing 20 4G labelled products at CES perhaps customers would like greater clarity over what it is they are being sold.
For many, a comprehensive move to 4G cannot come quick enough, and indeed the possibilities in the future for the technology are indeed impressive with an expert telling TechEye that, at a conservative estimation, there will be 50 billion wireless devices communicating at extremely high speeds across the globe by 2020.
However, according to the WSJ, we are only starting to see the beginning of 4G connectivity in a mobile environment despite the technology beng available for over two years since Clearwire began trials, with even those working in Silicon Valley lamenting the lack of 4G connectivity.
"It's very frustrating," said Beth Blecherman, a blogger in Palo Alto who recalled asking for a speed upgrade in her wireless carrier's store. "I said, 'I'm ready for 4G,' and they said, 'It's not in our area'".
It is thought that for, Clearwire at least, the main problem has been raising money for transmission towers and other high-tech infrastructure to switch on each city.