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Lee Badman
Lee Badman
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11ac Does Not Equal 5G

A major wireless vendor wants to tag the forthcoming 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard as 5G, even though the G designation is traditionally associated with cellular networks. What gives?

Smartphones came of age in a world dominated by 3G networks, when people used smartphones to make calls. (How quaint.) Internet connectivity was OK but not great, and users had to tolerate occasional delay or page timeouts.

Now 4G, which offers double-digit Mbps throughput, has elevated the mobile Internet a from second-class citizen to a first-class connectivity option. Watch any mobile carrier's commercials and you'll hear a lot of claims about their 4G networks. Most consumers don't know what 4G means, other than it's one higher than 3G, and therefore must be better.

But as I pointed out in a previous column, carriers and customers alike are currently living a cozy little lie about having "4G" networks and devices.

By definition, we'd have to see 100 Mbps when mobile and 1 Gbps when stationary to be 4G. We're not going to see that kind of performance anytime soon out of the likes of AT&T and Verizon. But LTE, EV-DO, DC-HSPA+ and WiMax are among the magical techniques that push performance beyond 3G, so we're all OK calling these technologies 4G. But 4G they are not.

Does it even matter? If groupthink on 4G marketing works for everyone, why point out the technical inaccuracies? Well, when marketing gets an inch, it sometimes goes looking for a mile.

Case in point is 5G. As 4G wireless networks continue to be turned up around the United States and abroad, it only makes sense that what comes next is being designed. And what comes after 4G in the mobile space would likely be called 5G, right? It would appear so, based on a growing number of articles regarding new mobile initiatives going on around the world.

The G moniker has long been associated with mobile carriers. From 1G's analog signaling through 2G, 3G and 4G, if it ended with G you knew that we were talking cellular as opposed to Wi-Fi.

For whatever reason, wireless giant Broadcom has embarked on an odd marketing campaign. With the latest Wi-Fi standard, 802.11ac, expected to be formalized later in the year, Broadcom has taken the 5G handle and tied it to Wi-Fi. Broadcom proclaims "5G Wi-Fi is the next generation Wi-Fi standard."

If I were a soccer referee, I would hand Broadcom a red card at this point. Sure, nobody owns the 5G term, and 11ac is arguably the fifth major generation of Wi-Fi networking, but referring to the pending 802.11ac standard as 5G introduces unnecessary confusion. Leave the G stuff to the mobile side of the industry, stick with 11ac on the Wi-Fi side, and let's not make things stranger than they already are.

Lee is a Network Engineer and Wireless Technical Lead for a large private university. He also teaches classes on networking, wireless network administrtaion, and wireless security. Lee's technical background includes 10 years in the US Air Force as an Electronc Warfare ... View Full Bio
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