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4G is 4G… Or Is It?



With the growth of mobile broadband the availability of 4G is becoming more important to consumers; however the term 4G is being used so differently by each of the mobile providers that soon it may be very difficult for consumers to compare mobile broadband offerings.

As 4G networks are deployed, the definition and understanding of 4G is becoming muddled. If action is not taken by the Federal Communications Commission soon 4G could become simply a vague term for fast mobile access as broadband has become a term for fast wired internet access.

Currently, the four major mobile carriers each support three different technologies and call all of their new networks “4G.” This disorganized use of the term 4G has forced the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) to abandoned the original definition to prevent further confusion. Using the ITU’s original definition of 4G, only WiMax and Long Term Evolution meet the necessary standards of speed and fidelity. The ITU felt that these technologies were a great improvement over 3G not just a simple upgrade. Nevertheless, the ITU revised its definition and now calls all three technologies “4G” in order to reduce some confusion. Additionally, the union has also considered adopting a new definition as early as next year for services that offer even faster speeds.

When ITU changed the definition, it released the following statement:

“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.”

Using this new definition, currently, only Sprint, Verizon and eventually AT&T have ITU-approved 4G. Currently Sprint offers its customers 4G via Clearwire’s WiMax network with download speeds of 3-6Mbps. Verizon has deployed a LTE network that offers customers speeds of 5-12Mbps download and 2-5Mbps upload.
T-Mobile and AT&T both advertise 4G services via HSPA+ networks but it does not match the technical comparisons of LTE or WiMax. HSPA+ is an incremental upgrade over the GSM networks; considered to be a middle step between 3G and LTE. AT&T plans to upgrade its network from HSPA+ to LTE over the next two years while T-Mobile plans to simply upgrade its throughput on the HSPA+ network. While AT&T has not released any speed details, currently the T-Mobile network provides download speeds of up to 8Mpbs with a theoretical maximum download speed of 21Mbps by the end of 2011. The company plans to upgrade the network to allow for download speeds of up to 42mbps.

4G download speeds can range from as slow as 3mbps to as fast as 42mbps. The use of HSPA+ as a 4G network is controversial because it is just an iteration of 3G technologies that can potentially offer faster speeds. When T-Mobile announced in July that it would be launching a 4G network using HSPA+ AT&T criticized the labeling of HSPA+ as 4G technology. AT&T spokesman Seth Bloom said: “I think that companies need to be careful that they’re not misleading customers by labeling HSPA+ as a 4G technology,” Bloom was quoted around the same time as telling several tech blogs, “[AT&T isn’t] labeling those technologies as 4G.”

Consumers are also frequently confused about what the term “4G” means. A recent survey by the Nielsen Company found that nearly half of respondents did not understand what 4G was but 83 percent were aware of it.

According to the survey:

“When asked to define 4G, 54 percent of those that responded selected the original ITU definition: mobile data speeds of more than 100 MBits/s, even though no carrier worldwide currently reaches speeds that high. Also of note, 27 percent of respondents thought that the iPhone 4 was 4G (it’s not), likely due to the naming conventions of the last several iPhone devices: iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS & iPhone 4. Additionally, a number of respondents selected slightly ambiguous definitions of 4G – for example, several of T-Mobile’s new Android phones are HSPA+ (the MyTouch 4G and the G2), but not all new android phones at T-Mobile are HSPA+.”

The survey indicates that the current naming structure of 4G confuses consumers – and creates a market asymmetry between users and providers.

The new open internet rules, which promote transparency, do not offer any regulation regarding the labeling of mobile networks. They simply require the information to be available to consumers. The Open Internet Order says in part, “[a]lthough a number of mobile broadband providers have adopted voluntary codes of conduct regarding disclosure, we believe that a uniform rule applicable to all mobile broadband providers will best preserve Internet openness by ensuring that end users have sufficient information to make informed choices regarding use of the network; and that content, application, service, and device providers have the information needed to develop, market, and maintain Internet offerings.”

As mobile providers deploy their next generation networks, the term “4G” is coming to simply describe a new network. Consumers, however, tend to believe that all of these new 4G networks are equal which is not the case. Currently these networks range from an incremental improvement, such as HSPA+ to truly next generation speeds as is available with LTE or WiMax – but unless the term “4G” is soundly defined, consumers may never know the difference.

Rahul Gaitonde has been writing for since the fall of 2009, and in May of 2010 he became Deputy Editor. He was a fellow at George Mason University’s Long Term Governance Project, a researcher at the International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology and worked at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. He holds a Masters of Public Policy from George Mason University, where his research focused on the economic and social benefits of broadband expansion. He has written extensively about Universal Service Fund reform, the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Data Improvement Act


Cable Group NCTA Says Deny Exclusive Multitenant Access, But Not Wiring, Agreements

NCTA said the FCC should deny exclusive access to these buildings, but not exclusive wiring agreements.



Michael Powell, president and CEO of NCTA

WASHINGTON, September 8, 2021 – The internet and television association NCTA is suggesting that the Federal Communications Commission deny all broadband providers exclusive access to multitenant buildings, but to continue allowing exclusive wiring agreements.

On Tuesday, the FCC opened a new round of comments into its examination of competitive broadband options for residents of apartments, multi-tenant and office buildings.

In a Tuesday ex parte notice to the commission, which follows a formal meeting with agency staff on September 2, the NCTA said the record shows that deployment, competition, and consumer choice in multiple tenant environments “are strong,” and that the FCC can “promote even greater deployment and competition by prohibiting not just cable operators, other covered [multiple video programming distributors], and telecommunications carriers, but all broadband providers from entering into MTE exclusive access agreements.

The organization, whose member companies include Comcast, Cox Communications and Charter Communications, also said it should continue to allow providers to enter into exclusive wiring agreements with MTE owners. Wiring just means that the provider can lay down its cables, like fiber, to connect residents.

“Exclusive wiring agreements do not deny new entrants access to MTEs. Rather, exclusive wiring agreements are pro-competitive and help ensure that state-of-the-art wiring will be deployed in MTEs to the benefit of consumers.”

The NCTA also told the FCC that there would be technical problems with simultaneous sharing of building wires by different providers and vouched for exclusive marketing arrangements, according to the notice.

The FCC’s new round of comments comes after a bill, introduced on July 30 by Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York, outlined plans to address exclusivity agreements between residential units and service providers, which sees providers lock out other carriers from buildings and leaving residents with only one option for internet.

Reached for comment on the filing, a spokesman for NCTA said they had nothing to add to the filing, which was signed by Mary Beth Murphy, deputy general counsel to the cable organization.

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Hytera’s Inclusion on FCC’s National Security Blacklist ‘Absurd,’ Client Says

Diversified Communications Group said the FCC flubbed on adding Hytera to blacklist.



Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, September 8, 2021 – A client of a company that has been included in a list of companies the Federal Communications Commission said pose threats to the security of the country’s networks is asking the agency to reconsider including the company.

In a letter to the commission on Tuesday, Diversified Communications Group, which installs and distributes two-way radio communications devices to large companies, said the inclusion of Hytera Communications Corporation, a Chinese manufacturer of radio equipment, on a list of national security threats is “absurd” because the hardware involved is not connected to the internet and “does not transmit any sensitive or proprietary data.

“It seems that Hytera has been lumped in with other Chinese companies on the Covered List simply because they happen to manufacture electronics in the same country,” Diversified’s CEO Ryan Holte said in the letter, adding Hytera’s products have helped Diversified’s business thrive.

“This is a wrong that should be righted. Hytera is not a national security risk. They are an essential business partner to radio companies throughout the U.S.,” the CEO added.

In March, the FCC announced that it had designated Hytera among other Chinese businesses with alleged links to the Communist government. Others included Huawei, ZTE, Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology, and Dahua Technology.

List among a number of restrictions on Chinese companies

This list of companies was created in accordance with the Secure Networks Act, and the FCC indicated that it would continue to add companies to the list if they are deemed to “pose an unacceptable risk to national security or the security and safety of U.S. persons.”

Last month, the Senate commerce committee passed through legislation that would compel the FCC to no longer issue new equipment licenses to China-backed companies.

Last year the U.S. government took steps to ensure that federal agencies could not purchase goods or services from the aforementioned companies, and had previously added them to an economic blacklist.

In July, the FCC voted in favor of putting in place measures that would require U.S. carriers to rip and replace equipment by these alleged threat companies.

The Biden administration has been making moves to isolate alleged Chinese-linked threats to the country’s networks. In June, the White House signed an executive order limiting investments in predominantly Chinese companies that it said poses a threat to national security.

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Digital Inclusion

FCC Says 5 Million Households Now Enrolled in Emergency Broadband Benefit Program

The $3.2 billion program provides broadband and device subsidies to eligible low-income households.



Acting FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

August 30, 2021—The Federal Communications Commission announced Friday that five million households have enrolled in the Emergency Broadband Benefit program.

The $3.2-billion program, which launched in May, provides a broadband subsidy of $50 per month to eligible low-income households and $75 per month for those living on native tribal lands, as well as a one-time reimbursement on a device. Over 1160 providers are participating, the FCC said, who are reimbursed the cost to provide the discounted services.

The agency has been updating the public on the number of participating households for the program. In June, the program was at just over three million and had passed four million last month. The program was part of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021.

“Enrolling five million households into the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program in a little over three months is no small feat,” said FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “This wouldn’t have been possible without the support of nearly 30,000 individuals and organizations who signed up as volunteer outreach partners.”

Rosenworcel added that conversations with partners and the FCC’s analysis shows the need for “more granular data” to bring these opportunities to more eligible families.

The program’s strong demand was seen as far back as March.

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