4G. The acronym is probably the most abused term in tech industry since "HD." And if you spend as much time reading up on mobile phone news as us (we hope you don't, that's what we're for!), you probably have come to the same conclusion: it's almost without meaning, constantly misrepresented, and defined on a completely subjective basis. We don't like any of this.
Neither do some of the members of congress, apparently. Today, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would require carriers to disclose the following information to consumers about their supposed "4G" services:
- 4G Minimum data speed
- 4G Network reliability
- 4G Coverage area maps
- 4G Pricing
- 4G Network tech used
- Conditions which may affect network speed
It's kind of a lot. And if you know anything about wireless data, some of it is totally impractical and stupid (how does one go about measuring "network reliability" in a way consumers can read or understand?), but it's hard to deny that the legislation has a noble goal at heart. This bill almost mirrors a similar piece of legislation introduce in the House of Representatives earlier this summer. If the bill gathers support and is passed in the Senate, the House and Senate bills will likely be reconciled into a single piece of legislation for final passage.
"Minimum data speed" may sound like an environmental variable nightmare at first glance, but really, all carriers need to do is determine the range of speeds end consumers get in the slowest 4G markets, crunch a few statistics, and figure out a number that'll represent the bottom-end for 95% of subscribers (this isn't what the bill says, it's just an idea I'm throwing out there). It's not simple addition, but it isn't rocket science, either.
Coverage maps are something we already have for 3G and voice, but carriers are, frankly, just too afraid to show the comparatively tiny area that their 4G services cover.
As for pricing, network technology, and conditions affecting speed, well, we don't think those are terribly burdensome pieces of information for carriers to hand over to consumers (some of which they already do).
Of course, the carriers have a big problem with this. Speaking on behalf of parties with large financial interests in the expanding market for 4G technology, CTIA released the following statement in response to the bill:
As we have said before, this bill proposes to add an additional layer of regulation to a new and exciting set of services, while ignoring the fact that wireless is an inherently complex and dynamic environment in which network speeds can vary depending on a wide variety of factors, such as weather, terrain and foliage. Congress should not impose new regulations. Instead, they should focus on the real issue, which is making sure that America's wireless carriers have sufficient spectrum to lead the world in the race to deploy 4G services.
Translation: "Bu-bu-bu... TREES! MOUNTAINS!" More eloquently, CTIA is saying that requiring 4G service providers to disclose actual concrete statistics would undermine the noble efforts of businesses who are trying to convince consumers that their 4G is just as, if not more, four-gee than the other guys' 4G, making consumers want more gees. Got it? Good.
I know I'm tired of carriers constantly advertising "4G" while having absolutely zero accountability for what that phrase actually means (technically, it originally meant over 100Mbps as defined by ITU-R). While it's obvious that what a given carrier's 4G can really do depends on the city, the phone (in the case of T-Mobile particularly), and network load, these reasons aren't any excuse against establishing standards of measurement for 4G services.
It seems so silly to me that carriers can hide behind the paper-thin argument that giving consumers more information about 4G would somehow hurt 4G deployment in America. I understand that 4G is in its early stages of deployment, but carriers advertise it in exactly the opposite way - implying that they are providing truly "next generation" performance with little in the way of actually backing up that statement.
What do you think, would a little more clarity in the 4G marketplace be something you want?