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Clarifying 4G vs FauxG

Four or Faux G
By IsaacKendall on 9 Aug 2011 09:00 am EDT
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On the off chance you were on a lunar mission last week and missed the news, RIM announced some new BlackBerry smartphones and it would appear they have jumped into the pool with everyone else and have labeled them as "4G".  We've received some emails requesting CrackBerry to jump into this particular swimming pool and act as a lifeguard of common sense ... and I couldn't answer the call any faster. Keep reading and we'll find out what's really 4G and whats just FauxG when it comes to smartphones.

This past CES in Las Vegas my CrackBerry pals Obi and Jared got really tired of my ranting about all the "FauxG" being thrown around and it absolutely drove me nuts.  I took this picture at the Verizon booth because it was the closet to "real 4G". 

CES2011 Verizon 4G

Many may ask what is the difference between true 4G and fake 4G.  To begin to let's look at what 4G actually means.  Many believe it's just simply the 4th Generation of cellular technology.  Sprint for example evolved from 2G - 1XRTT on to 3G -  EVDO and have arrived at 4G - WiMax.  Verizon jumped and called their LTE deployment 4G.  Not to be out done, T-Mobile decided to label their HSPA+ roll-out 4G since it was the next set beyond simple HSPA.  Right behind them AT&T called their HSPA+ 4G.  Early this spring Canada's 3 big carriers ran into the 4G party and changed the name of their HSPA+ networks to 4G.

Next to arrive were the phone manufactures.  One after another the next 4G phone was being introduced.  Last week the BlackBerry 7 devices were the latest to get in on the 4G fun.  It has simply become a laughable joke to those that see the big picture.

The logical question would be: "So if 4G is not just the next step in cellular technology what is it?"  Cellular terminology like EVDO, EDGE, HSPA+ & 4G is determined by the International Telecommunications Union.  There are strict guidelines which decide what is and is not technically 4G so let's put our propellor hats on and look at the requirements for a 4G network as defined by the ITU:

  • Based on an all-IP packet switched network
  • Peak data rates of up to approximately 100 Mbit/s for high mobility such as mobile access and up to approximately 1 Gbit/s for low mobility such as nomadic/local wireless access, according to the ITU requirements
  • Dynamically share and use the network resources to support more simultaneous users per cell
  • Scalable channel bandwidth 5-20 MHz, optionally up to 40 MHz
  • Peak link spectral efficiency of 15 bit/s/Hz in the downlink, and 6.75 bit/s/Hz in the uplink (meaning that 1 Gbit/s in the downlink should be possible over less than 67 MHz bandwidth).
  • System spectral efficiency of up to 3 bit/s/Hz/cell in the downlink and 2.25 bit/s/Hz/cell for indoor usage
  • Smooth handovers across heterogeneous networks
  • Ability to offer high quality of service for next generation multimedia support

If you're able to wade through all that and you ask "Based on the ITU-Advanced criteria, which carrier currently offers 4G?"  Answer....None.  The article should end here since we've determined what technically is and is not 4G but the water in the pool got more merky back in December of 2010.  Due to pressure in the industry with all these carriers and manufacturers rushing to market with the next 4G netowrk and and devices, the ITU decided to broaden the 4G definition.

Following a detailed evaluation against stringent technical and operational criteria, ITU has determined that "LTE-Advanced" and "WirelessMAN-Advanced" should be accorded the official designation of IMT-Advanced. As the most advanced technologies currently defined for global wireless mobile broadband communications, IMT-Advanced is considered as "4G", although it is recognized that this term, while undefined, may also be applied to the forerunners of these technologies, LTE and WiMax, and to other evolved 3G technologies providing a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third generation systems now deployed. The detailed specifications of the IMT-Advanced technologies will be provided in a new ITU-R Recommendation expected in early 2012.

A sphincter says what?

Essentially the ITU recognized the term 4G had been so bastardized that they couldn't walk back the cat.  To silence the debate the ITU simply lowered the bar so as to included HSPA+ and current WiMax/LTE networks.  This loosening of the definition means that Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, Rogers, Telus & Bell's current versions of 4G are now considered 4G.

Now what about these BlackBerry 7 devices announced last week, are they 4G?  Based on the new ITU defintion, No.

Although the new BlackBerry smartphones sport a terrific 14.4 Mbps HSPA modem, 14.4 does not cut the mustard of HSPA+.   The new HSPA modems are a welcome increase from the 3.6Mbps in the Bold & Torch currently available, but do not pass the 4G test.

Do I personally care?  No.  I still really want a 9900 and will be standing at the store the day it's available to tether my PlayBook to a 14.4 modem which will be a remarkable improvement over the sad performance of my Torch over Bluetooth.  Obi and Jared will be happy to know I've succumbed to the 4G debate and thrown my hands up and just don't care anymore.

To summarize, a 4G network must be LTE OR WiMax OR HSPA+

    Read the ITU press release on new 4G definition
    Wikipedia on ITU-Advanced 4G Requirements

    Reader comments

    Clarifying 4G vs FauxG

    53 Comments

    Good article Isaac.
    Keep in mind everybody that it's not RIM/BlackBerry labeling the new devices as 4G, but rather the carrier partners making that decision. That was made clear to us during our BlackBerry 7 fan night (check out my hands on with the Torch 9850 video). It's kind of funny - you'll see some BlackBerry 7 devices roll with a 3G radio signal icon, and some with a new 4G one, all based on carrier, yet it'll be the same device. But I put the fauxG blame really on the carriers, not the manufacturers IMO. And if RIM wants to get carrier love on the new BB7 devices, it's best they do what the carriers ask (also possibly why we haven't heard official mention of any WiFi Hotspot capabilities on the new devices, even though it is supported by the chipset and was rumored/showing up on early pre-release builds - but in this case if it's the carriers that squashed that feature, that sucks).

    But this seems to be a problem only in north american carriers, to be honest. Here in France, the "next generation" of 3G is called 3.5G or 3G+ depending on carrier, which makes things a lot easier to understand. That is why we don't have phones with 1000 prefixes here (Samsung Galaxy S II Epic 4G Touch for example), just a plain and simple name.

    Telus (and possibly Bell) in Canada used to call their "4G" HSPA+ network 3G+ when they initially launched it at the end of 2009. It was only recently, and without notice, that they decided to brand it 4G... They have succumbed to the pressure of the U.S. Market.

    Hmmm... i really dont know why United States carriers are labeling WiMax and HSDPA+ as 4G, the real 4G is the LTE and anything that is OFDMA (Google it, do your research).

    Good article thought.

    I think you missed the point of the article. The ITU has redefined the 4G label to include WiMAX, current LTE and HSPA+. So that is now "real 4G". The carriers got their way, plain and simple.

    I understood that, the point is that im not buying that because they (ITU) said so. 4G was stablished and defined a long time ago, now they want to change that for pure commerce, Telecom Engineers might now what im talking about.

    Bring me that Torch 2 9810 already i dont care if it says H+ or 4G on the top right corner :)

    It is silly. The Telecom Carriers created this massive confusion with all the Gs and what not. The original 4G spec was so high that no carriers were going to be rolling it out "en masse" any time soon. To push new phones, they need the next batch to sound improved (faster, better, bigger etc...). Rogers used the term 3.5G and then HSPA+ but it just created more confusion. The typical consumer doesn't care about the details, they just want it to be fast and current and not "dead in 6 months".

    Correct - so that means that the LTE neworks that some carriers like Rogers in Canada are now deploying should be called '5G'... :-)

    I suggest you take your own advice and google it a bit more carefully.

    The original ITU definitions did include both Wimax and LTE as being 4g technology, it is only due to these early implementations of that technology not managing to match up to the speeds required to meet those original definitions that the bar has ended up being lowered to allow their current versions to keep that moniker and in the process allowed the equally quick hspa+ also claim to be 4g.

    OK so TECHNICALLY the HSPA+ network would have been 3.5G, but since its terrible marketing to brag about the extra half G everyone just rounded up to the nearest whole number and called it 4G....

    ... when in reality its "just 3.5G". Close enough?

    (sorry haven't really looked into WiMax or LTE... my mind glosses over trying to keep track of the differences)

    (back to the "half G for a moment. Makes me wonder how Apple managed to market the iPhone 3.5? oh yeah... they swapped out the point 5 for letters. ZING!)

    Actually 3.5G was a term that was originally coined for just the basic hsdpa to distinguish it from basic umts, you have then had steady increments of the 3.xG as you added hsupa to give hspa and then eventually hspa+ as those speeds were upped further

    It's like how the Samsung Galaxy S II in the UK has the 3G symbol, while the Samsung Galaxy S II 4G from Bell has 4G in it's status bar, despite it being the EXACT SAME PHONE (internals, externals).

    I don't care any more either, but if I get charged more for 4G data services (much like when 3G first came out in 2006 with Rogers), then you know Rogers (Customer Relations to be precise) will be getting MANY phone calls from me.

    Thanks for the article, it definitely made me take a closer look into the naming convention.

    Also I think HSPA should be HSPDA as that is the common term used in carrier documentation.

    So what I take away from this article is that the new BB7 phones will have HSDPA which is faster than 3G (EVDO) however they are not fast enough to be categorized as 4G (True or LTE/Wimax/HSPA+). And the reason why LTE/Wimax/HSPA+ is even considered 4G now is because the american consumer market is in such an arms race to show the biggest.... Carriers really do run the show.

    I blame all the public G confusion on the iPhone 3G, 3GS and 4G (oops)..4

    FYI it's HSDPA - not HSPDA :)

    HSPA is the family that HSDPA lives within. So must just go with the overall name (plus it's easier to say)

    HSDPA is your regular 3G (and is in no way considered 4G), what the carriers are reffering to withthe BB7 devices is HSPA+ (an advanced version of HSPA). Carrier logic is that if the device runs on their HSPA+ network (which they consider 4G), then it must be a 4G phone!

    Mobile is about to enter a world of confusion!

    Actually I completely disagree with you on this

    The technology is called HSPA (High Speed Packet Access)

    HSDPA and HSUPA are part of HSPA

    D for downlink
    U for uplink

    So there's no logic in referring the entire technology to it's download subacategory.

    Add a "+" everywhere for HSPA + and you got the same story. (the plus sign stands for evolved)

    With gsm 3g you had the following progression:

    UMTS - basic 3g
    HSDPA - improved downlink
    HSPA - HSDPA and the addition of HSUPA (also known as EUL in some cases)
    HSPA+ - improved version of HSPA

    I work within the wireless world and get bombarded with these questions all the time. Thanks for the great clarification CB Kev! I personally blame Apple/iPhone for starting this 4G free for all! Long like the RIMPIRE

    yeah, my thing is if they dont really have "4G" service, or it is not in your area, how can they charge you for something they are just calling 4G, and if you want a phone they lable as 4G but really isnt, than it shouldnt be ethical to charge for a service you are not getting

    "I still really want a 9900 and will be standing at the store the day it's available to tether my PlayBook to a 14.4 modem which will be a remarkable improvement over the sad performance of my Torch over Bluetooth."

    Have I missed something here? Won't both scenarios still be using Bluetooth, which will be the bottleneck, @ 2.1Mbps ?

    Only way around this is if RIM supports Bridging/Tethering over wifi hotspot.

    The 9800 has a 3.6 modem in it but the network never gives me anything close to that. More like 500-750k.

    By having a 14.4 modem in my new 9900 I am banking in the full 2.1 bluetooth offers, which is more than I am getting right now.

    Let's hope you're right.

    P.S. With my PB Bridged to my Storm 1 (think I'm due for an upgrade soon ;^) on Bell I get about 0.9Mbps on speedtest.net.

    One of the features of OS7 is the "mobile host spot" tethering over WiFi, which would offer much better speeds to a PlayBook tethered to an OS7 device. This was originally seen in OS6.1 and hopefully it's something that will be there in OS7 and that the carriers will not block or bundle as a paid offering.

    Yea I believe you are correct with the transfer rates of Bluetooth.

    At least the 9900 will be superfast lol :)

    Thanks for writing this. The 4G BS is frustrating when you see it advertised everywhere, knowing full well that it's not true but people will buy it.

    it's a lil bit clearer to me but ummmm....can someone tell me the speed of my Rogers 3G 9800 Torch vs my new fauxG 9810 Torch? #thanksabunch !

    "tether my PlayBook to a 14.4 modem" - gave me a brief flash of me sitting in front of my 386 connecting to the internet using my USR 14.4 kbps modem.

    I've read numerous debates about the whole "4G" term usage. Even with the ITU's broadening of 4G, I still refuse to acknowledge HSPA+ as 4G. Why don't we go a step beyond that and call EDGE 3G? After all, EDGE>GPRS>AMPS. That would open the door to calling LTE 6G.

    Thanks for the article. What would be helpful is a chart that compares the 4 major carriers and their Actual speeds...Upload and Download. That would help the consumer decide which one is fastest and best for them.

    That would be a moot point because as with all wireless technologies the speed advertised is only theoretical max. The only way you will see the speeds they advertise is sitting in their test lab. The best thing to do is check the root score by root mobile.

    Bottom line is the whole world runs on fraud, from top to bottom, politicians to peddlers, womens' features to smartphone features.

    I don't follow the technical language at all but the explanation of the concept and marketing hype is very helpful.

    I would gladly take some faux 4G on Verizon. 14.4 is a huge step up from the 3G speeds that we will be living with until we get a LTE BB.

    Great explanation ! I now know why I'm being lied to.......lol

    On a related note, my understanding is that there are no current chip sets that incorporate both 3G and 4G which means the few 4G models available today have two chip sets on board. This means the handsets are overly large and have terrible battery life. I've even heard of one model that comes with two batteries and a special charger with a battery charing port so they can be swapped out during the day if needed.

    I've also heard that's why the iP5 is delayed as Apple is waiting for the integrated chip set to be available.

    Definitely, the carriers are falling over themselves to make their networks look superior to others. I suppose, according to Isaac, T-Mo perhaps initiated this confusion, mislabeling their HSPA+ networks 4G. But, was this not caused by the ITU? From the ITU press release, they clearly labeled even LTE as 3G. What rubbish! LTE-Advanced was to be labeled 4G. In other words, it would take even longer before carriers could use/sell services under the 4G banner. Obviously, the carriers decided to go with their own definition of what 4G was. Too bad ITU.

    The ITU should have defined what HSPA+ and basic LTE would be called. Perhaps 3G+? What about 14.4 Mbps HSPA+ versus 21 Mbps or 42 Mbps? 3G-Advanced? What do we call those faster network services?

    Obviously, RIM did not want to get into that mess, so on their new phones they came up with a new symbol called H+ to refer to HSPA+. They did not want to mislead anyone so they labeled it what is was. Note that the new phones still only support up to 14.4 Mbps, which is at the very low end of HSPA+. Nevertheless, that is good enough for me right now.

    And this is troubling. All the carriers, and their advertising, tout these amazing "4G" networks. Verizon is the "most reliable", At&t claims to be the "fastest" and T-Mobile claims to be the "Nation's largest". This is problematic because it influences the average customer, who only uses 10% of their phone's capibility, yet now believe that they "need" a 4G device. Now a large portion of the market has more confusion then before, and the device is literally flooded with "4G" devices. I think the carriers need to tone it down a little so the air can clear.

    Engadget posted a 2G v. 3G v. 4G article back in January that explains the evolutions and differences of these technologies in greater detail. It's mildly dated but it's an excellent read for those who want to go a bit deeper into the reasons behind the battle of the Gs. Highly recommended:

    "2G, 3G, 4G, and everything in between: an Engadget wireless primer" http://engt.co/eGqSep

    When my customers say "I bought a 3G phone and now you have a 4G network. But my phone is still displaying '3G'. How come?", I reply, "3G was rebranded as 4G across Canada as it's the 4th generation of cell network. It's displaying '3G' because that's the way it was programmed". When they still look at me with a perplexed look I say "You didn't miss anything". That's the only way I can explain it all in layman's terms. :)

    On Telus Canada website, 9900 is not marked as a 4G phone. Worst is that they posted 9900 will NOT support their 4G network speeds.

    Is that means Telus will not provide faster Internet service to new 9900?

    Maybe it means that Telus only brand devices beyond a certain speed e.g. 21Mb/s as 4g and not any with a hspa+ radio.

    After reading this and looking at the specs for the 9900/9930... The CDMA 9930 has significantly slower speed potential than the 9900 with HSPA+ right? If I want the new bold should I be dropping VZW and finding the nearest GSM carrier?

    It's funny cause I work at a bell store up here in canada and when customers ask about 4g, I'm honest with them and say that it isn't 4g but more like 3.5g because it's only 42mbps, not 100mbps like the rules say.

    I totally agree with that! HSPA+ and EVDO are NOT 4G, only WiMax & LTE/LTE Advanced could be described as 4G platforms. Thanks for sharing this article, hopefully this will damp out the confusion among other people who are now puzzled..

    I totally agree with that! HSPA+ and EVDO are NOT 4G, only WiMax & LTE/LTE Advanced could be described as 4G platforms. Thanks for sharing this article, hopefully this will damp out the confusion among other people who are now puzzled..