If you’re a marketer, the temptation of adding two letters to your product or service description that is immediately associated as “good” in the mind of consumers is just too irresistible.

That’s why the term “4G” – meaning fourth generation networks – is so popular for carriers to adopt as a descriptor for their cellular networks. Since many other networks are advertised as “3G” networks currently, being able to advertise a “4G” network is obviously better. It sends the signal to potential customers that the network is ahead of the competition and implies better speed and reliability.

Yet so many carriers are eager to slap on the 4G label that it has now been used to describe different technologies, in some cases the same technology described by 3G. As a result, the definition of 4G will likely become too confusing a label for most consumers and be doomed to exist only as a vague indicator of “being good,” similar to the HD label too often associated with video.

Brian Jackson, journalist
Brian Jackson

Telus Mobility announced yesterday it’d be the first carrier north of the border to claim to offer a 4G network. What it is actually describing is an upgrade of its current HSPA+ network to Dual Cell or DC-HSPA+. This supports peak download speeds of 42 mbps and upload speeds of 11 mbps.

Telus is interpreting 4G the same way as T-Mobile in the U.S., which also advertises a HSPA+ network as 4G. Also in the U.S., Sprint is currently advertising its Wi-Max network as 4G and Verizon and AT&T are readying LTE networks that will be advertised as 4G when they go live this year and next year.

So who’s right? Technically, all of them.

In December, the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) relaxed its previously stringent requirements for 4G classification, which would have excluded all of the above examples. It allowed the 4G term to be applied to both early versions of LTE and Wi-Max, as well as evolved 3G networks.

Consumers are sure to throw up their hands and give up trying to figure out what 4G means well before they sort out all of this technical specification. Further compounding the issue in Canada is Wind Mobile’s “HD Voice” marketing slogan. As if HD hasn’t been marred enough by its unimpeded use to advertise video in all shapes and sizes, now it’s being applied to call quality too.

Businesses and professionals don’t need to try and understand what carriers mean when they use these marketing labels. Just look past the letters and consider the speed and underlying network technology to see if the service meets your needs.

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  • Gisabun

    Every TV you buy says “HD” but some are 720p and others are 1080p. You can’t buy a TV without HD. so why include it?

    Reminds me of in the early 90s when the WWW was considered “young”. Because there were few high speed access, people were using dial up modems. So the term “Internet Ready” was born. All it meant was that the computer had a modem included.