It’s the biggest thing in mobile networks at the moment, but 4G is proving to be a confusing mess of mixed messages, unfulfilled promises and a marketing disaster.
4G is a broad marketing term designed to describe the fourth generation mobile network technology. The problem is that it’s a general term used to describe a wide range of technologies.
As a general overview, two different technologies are described as 4G. The first is WiMax, which is used by Vivid Wireless in capital cities around the country. The other is LTE, which is used by Telstra for the 4G network it launched last year.
While Optus purchased Vivid Wireless last month, for the most part 4G refers to LTE technology in Australia. WiMax certainly exists in Australia at the moment, but it hasn’t lived up to its proclaimed potential.
But even if we take WiMax out of the equation, and only use 4G to describe LTE technology, the problem is that LTE isn’t a simple technology. And as we found out recently with the launch of the “new iPad” from Apple, it’s a den of confusion destined to end in angry customers.
Apple’s latest iPad offers 4G LTE support on two different frequencies - 700MHz and 2100Mhz. The problem is that in Australia, only Telstra currently operates an LTE network, which runs on the 1800MHz spectrum.
While Optus is currently running LTE trials on the 700MHz frequency, it will still be years before the service goes live as that spectrum is currently used by analogue TV broadcasts. Optus will launch a 1800MHz LTE network in the near future, well before the 700MHz LTE network goes live.
Adding to the confusion is that even when we have a 700MHz LTE spectrum in Australia, there’s no guarantee that it will be compatible with the US 700MHz LTE spectrum. That means that devices like the iPad probably won’t work on Australian LTE networks, even if running on the same frequency.
While Apple’s decision to maintain its 4G marketing in Australia - despite the fact it doesn’t work on Australian 4G networks - is unique to the Cupertino company, it doesn’t change the fact that for the vast majority of consumers, understanding which LTE frequency a device works on is not high on their list of desirable features.
Until Optus or Vodafone launch a 4G network, the problem is largely managed by the fact that outside Apple, only Telstra sells 4G devices, and they’re all compatible with its network. But once Optus or Vodafone catches up with an LTE offering, the confusion over 4G is set to grow.