officially launched the G2, its successor to the the company's flagship Android-powered G1 handset. In its announcement, T-Mobile's top selling point wasn't for the phone's hardware but for the fact that it can reach "4G speeds."Earlier today T-Mobile
That little twist of language (is it 4G or isn't it?) comes on the heels of AT&T chiding T-Mobile earlier this year after T-Mobile called its own network 4G when in fact it's a revamped kind of 3G. Big carriers having a spat over marketing language? Or genuine disagreement over what those networks really are?
Maybe both. According to the International Telecommunication Union, which sets network standards, "There is even more confusion within the wireless industry, as to what exactly constitutes 3G, because of the increasing use by some industry players of the term 4G. A number of the so called 4G technologies are in fact actually evolutions of 3G technologies."
T-Mobile, the nation's fourth largest carrier, is in the middle of upgrading its existing 3G network to what's called HSPA+ - a faster version of 3G. So what's 4G? That term, like 3G, refers to each generation of cellular wireless standards. According to the ITC, the fourth generation (4G) has to have download speeds of at least 100 mbps. Companies using technology that's faster than 3G (Sprint, using WiMax) or that will be using it in the near future (Verizon and AT&T using LTE) advertise that they're "4G" - but none of them offers that kind of speed.
Whatever category they fall into, at this point there isn't a huge difference between T-Mobile's HSPA+ and Sprint's 4G network. Limited studies done earlier this year found that T-Mobile had a slight edge on downloading speeds and a significant advantage when it came to uploading.
But speed isn't the only issue: 3G networks are already burdened to the point that users are subjected to caps on monthly data usage. To catch up to the other carriers, T-Mobile could build its own WiMax or LTE network - or invest in an existing one. Last week The Wall St. Journal reported that T-Mobile is interested in a relationship with Clearwire, the Sprint-backed company that provides WiMax 4G service.
As each carrier races up its network's speed, there's one thing to keep in mind:
"Next generation technologies like pre-4G and 4G with their promise of greater speed and spectral efficiency become all the more appealing to the players involved in [information and communication technologies]," wrote the authors of a recent Business Insights report. "However, the reality is that 80% of mobile connections are still on 2G networks and 3G connections are only available in some areas, even in developed countries, with the exception of a few leading countries."