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.
FCC Institutes ACP Transparency Data Collection
The FCC stated that it will lean on the newly mandated broadband nutrition labels.
WASHINGTON, November 23, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission last week adopted an order that mandated annual reporting from all providers participating in the Affordable Connectivity Program, a federal initiative that subsidizes the internet-service and device costs of low-income Americans.
The FCC order establishing the ACP Transparency Data Collection, not released until Wednesday, requires ACP-affiliated providers to disclose prices, subscription rates, and other plan characteristics on yearly basis. The FCC stated that it will lean on the newly mandated broadband nutrition labels, which, it says, will ease regulatory burdens for providers.
The FCC created the Transparency Data Collection pursuant to the statutory requirements of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act of 2021. The commission adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking in June.
Earlier this year, T-Mobile endorsed the nutrition-label method of collection. Industry associations including IMCOMPAS and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Associations warned the FCC against instituting excessive reporting burdens.
“To find out whether this program is working as Congress intended, we need to know who is participating, and how they are using the benefit,” said Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel. “So we’re doing just that. The data we collect will help us know where we are, and where we need to go. We’re also standardizing the way we collect data, and looking for other ways to paint a fuller picture of how many eligible households are participating in the ACP. We want all eligible households to know about this important benefit for affordable internet service.”
Although the ACP is highly touted by the FCC, the White House, and industry experts, there is evidence the fund has been exploited by fraudsters, according to a watchdog. In September, the FCC Office of Inspector General issued a report that found the ACP handed out more than $1 million in improper benefits. In multiple instances, according to the OIG, the information of a qualifying individual was improperly used for hundreds of applications, achieving payouts of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Last month, Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., contacted 13 leading internet service providers, requesting details on alleged fishy business practices connected to the ACP and its predecessor, the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program.
Federal Communications Commission Mandates Broadband ‘Nutrition’ Labels
The FCC also mandated that internet service provider labels be machine-readable.
WASHINGTON, November 18, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday afternoon ordered internet providers to display broadband “nutrition” labels at points of sale that include internet plans’ performance metrics, monthly rates, and other information that may inform consumers’ purchasing decisions.
The agency released the requirement less than 24 hours before it released the first draft of its updated broadband map.
The FCC mandated that labels be machine-readable, which is designed to facilitate third-party data-gathering and analysis. The commission also requires that the labels to be made available in customers’ online portals with the provide the and “accessible” to non-English speakers.
In addition to the broadband speeds promised by the providers, the new labels must also display typical latency, time-of-purchase fees, discount information, data limits, and provider-contact information.
“Broadband is an essential service, for everyone, everywhere. Because of this, consumers need to know what they are paying for, and how it compares with other service offerings,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement.
“For over 25 years, consumers have enjoyed the convenience of nutrition labels on food products. We’re now requiring internet service providers to display broadband labels for both wireless and wired services. Consumers deserve to get accurate information about price, speed, data allowances, and other terms of service up front.”
Industry players robustly debated the proper parameters for broadband labels in a flurry of filings with the FCC. Free Press, an advocacy group, argued for machine-readable labels and accommodations for non-English speakers, measures which were largely opposed by trade groups. Free Press also advocated a requirement that labels to be included on monthly internet bills, without which the FCC “risks merely replicating the status quo wherein consumers must navigate fine print, poorly designed websites, and byzantine hyperlinks,” group wrote.
“The failure to require the label’s display on a customer’s monthly bill is a disappointing concession to monopolist ISPs like AT&T and Comcast and a big loss for consumers,” Joshua Stager, policy director of Free Press, said Friday.
The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association clashed with Free Press in its FCC filing and supported the point-of-sale requirement.
“WISPA welcomes today’s release of the FCC’s new broadband label,” said Vice President of Policy Louis Peraertz. “It will help consumers better understand their internet access purchases, enabling them to quickly see ‘under the hood,’ and allow for an effective apples-to-apples comparison tool when shopping for services in the marketplace.”
FCC to Establish New Space Bureau, Chairwoman Says
‘The new space age has turned everything we know about how to deliver critical space-based services on its head.’
WASHINGTON, November 3, 2022 — The Federal Communications Commission will add a new space bureau that will modernize regulations and facilitate innovation, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel announced Thursday.
The new bureau is intended to facilitate American leadership in the space economy, boost the Commission’s technical capacity, and foster interagency cooperation, Rosenworcel said, speaking at the National Press Club.
“The new space age has turned everything we know about how to deliver critical space-based services on its head,” Rosenworcel said. “But the organizational structures of the [FCC] have not kept pace,” she added.
The space economy is “on a monumental run” of growth and innovation, the chairwoman argued, and the FCC must remodel itself to facilitate continued growth. Rosenworcel said the commission is currently reviewing 64,000 new satellite applications, and she further noted that 98 percent of all satellites launched in 2021 provided internet connectivity. By the end off 2022, operators will set a new record for satellites launched into orbit, she said.
The FCC will not take on new responsibilities, Rosenworcel said, but the announced restructuring will help the agency “perform existing statutory responsibilities better.” In September, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R–Wash., warned the FCC against overreaching its statutory mandate and voiced support for robust congressional oversight – a position reiterated by House staffers Wednesday.
“The formation of a dedicated space bureau within the FCC is a positive step for satellite operators and customers across the United States,” said Julie Zoller, head of global regulatory affairs at Amazon’s satellite broadband Project Kuiper, on a panel following Rosenworcel’s announcement.
“An important part of [Rosenworcel’s] space agenda is ensuring that there is a competitive environment in all aspects of that space,” said Umair Javed, the chairwoman’s chief counsel, during the panel. “So we’ve taken action to update our rules on spectrum sharing to make sure that there are opportunities for multiple systems to be successful in low Earth orbit.
“We’ve granted a number of experimental authorizations to companies that are doing really new…things,” Umair continued.
The FCC in September required that low–Earth orbit satellite debris be removed within five years of mission completion, a move Rosenworcel said would clear the way for new innovation.
In August, the FCC revoked an $885 million grant to SpaceX’s Starlink satellite-broadband service. FCC Commissioners Brendan Carr and Nathan Simington criticized the reversal, and Starlink has since appealed it.
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