The International Telecommunications Union had initially defined "4G" technologies as International Mobile Communications (IMT)-Advanced standards that hit peak theoretical data rates of 100Mbps or higher. Needless to say, none of the current wireless data technologies commercially available anywhere in the world come close to those data rates, and actual IMT-Advanced standards aren't expected to be completed until 2012 at the earliest.
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But this doesn't matter much anymore from a marketing point of view, since the ITU threw up its hands late last year and said carriers could use the term 4G to describe any IMT-Advanced forerunner technologies such as LTE, WiMAX and HSPA+. The ITU's reasoning was that such "evolved 3G technologies" provide "a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third generation systems now deployed." In other words, unless you operate an old-school EDGE network, you can probably get away with calling your network 4G.
So since the term "4G" is used by all major U.S. wireless carriers, and given the fact that it will be a hot topic of conversation at next week's big CTIA Wireless industry event in Orlando, it's a good time to revisit just what kinds of "4G" services carriers are offering and what you can expect from them in terms of data speeds.