US operators could be forced by law to define 4G more clearly

US operators could be forced to state the capabilities and coverage of their networks more clearly if a bill introduced into the senate this week becomes law.

The confusion over the blanket marketing of all types of next generation networks as 4G has long been a contentious issue in the industry, with all the major networks touting 4G services, regardless of the technologies on which they are based and the speeds they actually deliver.

Now Senator Anna Eshoo is looking to bring more clarity to the situation by introducing a bill called the “Next Generation Wireless Disclosure Act.” This states that, “providers and other sellers of advanced wireless mobile broadband service should be required to make accurate and reasonable disclosures of the terms and conditions of such service in order to give consumers the necessary information to make informed decisions about such service and to promote greater transparency in the market”.

As speeds are often widely dependant on coverage the bill also suggests creating a “reliability rating” based on the initiations and successful conclusion of data sessions.  The customers should also have up front information on coverage, the minimum data speed they should expect and a clear explanation of the issues that could affect performance, such as network management, traffic shaping and traffic prioritisation based on applications and services.

“The wireless industry has invested billions to improve service coverage, reliability and data speeds, and consumer demand for 4G is expected to explode. But consumers need to know the truth about the speeds they’re actually getting, said Senator Eshoo in a statement to explain the bill.

“My legislation is simple – it will establish guidelines for understanding what 4G speed really is, and ensure that consumers have all the information they need to make an informed decision.”

In October 2010 the ITU mandated that only services offering 100Mbps download speed on the move could be classified as 4G, but two months later expanded the definition to any service that offers a significant increase in throughput over initial 3G deployments, a decision based on the realities of US marketing strategies. Verizon Wireless describes its LTE network as 4G and says that it can deliver 5-12Mbps. MetroPCS promotes its networks as 4G-LTE, while Sprint refers to its slower Wimax offering as 4G. AT&T calls its HSPA+ service 4G and plans to launch its LTE network this summer. T-Mobile USA even defines its HSPA 14.4Mbps network as 4G.

The US bill will be able to do little about the marketing of next generation services in other countries, however, which is unfortunate considering that last week, Rogers Wireless of Canada took things to another level by touting its forthcoming LTE offering as “beyond 4G.”


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