The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has just agreed on the technologies that are deemed worthy enough to earn the “IMT-Advanced” designation: LTE-Advanced and WirelessMAN-Advanced, the latter being more widely known as WiMAX 2. They don’t want to call it 5G, but you can expect AT&T’s marketing department to already be in the process of drafting up some ads. Nearly two years ago we wrote an article titled “4G in America: Lies, Lies, and More Damn Lies” explaining why HSPA+, WiMAX, and LTE didn’t deserve to be called 4G technologies, but the ITU caved in during mid December 2010 and let operators use the term 4G, despite the fact that it was previously meant to designate networks using LTE-Advanced. Semantics aside, what’s “IMT-Advanced” all about? François Rancy, Director of the ITU’s Radiocommunication Bureau, says:
“IMT-Advanced would be like putting a fibre optic broadband connection on your mobile phone, making your phone at least 500 times faster than today’s 3G smart phones. But it’s not only about speed; it’s about efficiency. IMT-Advanced will use radio-frequency spectrum much more efficiently making higher data transfers possible on lesser bandwidth. This will enable mobile networks to face the dramatic increase in data traffic that is expected in the coming years.”
To give you a better idea of what’s possible, just look at what Ericsson demoed in Sweden during June 2011. They were able to hit download speeds of around 954 megabits per second in a moving van using around 60 MHz worth of spectrum. Despite that being a real world test, i.e. not in a lab environment, we doubt we’ll ever see anyone offer speeds that high because no one actually owns that much spectrum in any particular market. At least we don’t think.
So now the question is when are we going to see such high speed networks crop up? Luckily for the U.S. it may be as early as 2013. Dish Network, the satellite TV company, owns 40 MHz worth of spectrum that they want to use for an LTE-Advanced network. They’re just waiting for the FCC to give them the thumbs up to use it. As soon as that happens, you bet we’ll cover the announcement!