By Brian Jackson

Wind Mobile became the latest wireless carrier in Canada to claim it was rolling out a 4G network, and also the latest to lower the bar on what a “4G” standard even means any more.

I’ve ranted before about how communications company marketing departments had turned those two letters into a meaningless term in the hopes of bamboozled consumers immediately equating the label with being good. 4G of course used to refer to fourth generation wireless communications technologies, which included only Long Term Evolution (LTE) and Wi-Max until last December.

Brian Jackson, Associate Editor, ITBusiness.ca
Brian Jackson, Associate Editor, ITBusiness.ca

That’s when the International Telecommunication Union decided to ease up on what could be called “4G” and allowed it to be applied to what had been previously considered later-stage 3G technologies.

The result of that move has led to a bizarre string of marketing ploys to try and convince Canadians they are the fastest network. That includes a recent Rogers tagline that makes its network seem like it is more than 4G (but not going as far as calling it 4G+ or 5G). But Wind’s recent fast and loose usage of the term takes the cake as the most egregious yet.

Let’s take a look at what the carriers actually mean when they say “4G”:

4G network definitions by carrier

Rogers Communications: Rogers launched its new LTE network in the National Capital Region earlier this year, and is the first carrier to bring LTE to Canada. To differentiate itself from other carriers marketing HSPA+ technology as 4G, Rogers has been branding its service as “Beyond 4G.” LTE can deliver up to 150 Mbps bandwidth under optimal conditions, but Rogers says users should expect between 12 to 25 Mbps speeds on average.

Telus Mobility & Bell Mobility: Telus announced it would be the first in Canada to claim a 4G network back in February. In technical terms, Telus and Bell upgraded their shared HSPA+ network to Dual Cell or DC-HSPA+ technology, which supports a maximum download speeds of 42 Mbps and upload speeds of 11 Mbps.  Average download speeds for users would be about 7 to 14 Mbps.

Wind Mobile: Announced it was rolling out network upgrades to 4G speeds, with HSPA+ technology allowing up to 21.1 Mbps bandwidth. Previously Wind towers were delivering 14.4 Mbps speeds. Using the same rule of thumb Rogers, Telus and Bell use for their mobile networks, Wind’s 4G speeds will actually deliver about 3 to 6 Mbps.

Bottom line is that consumers and businesses alike shouldn’t pay too much heed to marketing of 4G networks. Just find out what the advertised maximum bandwidth is on that network and then divide by six or seven to get an idea of the actual speed you’ll be getting.

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