Thinking back on the 1987 movie "Spaceballs," I picture a comical Dark Helmet standing on the bridge of his ship. In my mind, he holds a smartphone and contemplates the latest buzz on mobile network speeds, fresh from the International Telecommunications Union. As he ponders the 100-Mbps data speeds soon to be delivered by his preferred carrier, he utters the order, "Prepare for ludicrous speed," and the ship IMT-Advanced warps off to hyperspace at an impossibly crazy velocity. Speeds in the mobile data world are about to get quite exciting.
To read the various analyses of what the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) has recently approved in its IMT-Advanced announcement is to be schooled on what 3G and 4G really are, and are not, as well as to get a look at where mobile wireless is heading. And where it's heading is impressive.
Where a present-day good 3G connection will yield a respectable few megabits-per-second connectivity (if you’re not moving), IMT-Advanced will make 3G feel like a dial-up modem. Current LTE networks that claim 4G-ness measure and market their speeds in the double-digit megabits per second, but there is a lot of variability across carriers and conditions required to get to top speeds.
Regardless of the current marketing campaigns and the decent speeds that the carriers are giving us on their "4G" networks, the ITU says that we have yet to see true 4G networks by its technical definition. To really be 4G, a network must deliver speeds of 100 Mbps when in motion at vehicle speeds and 1 Gbps (yes, gig speeds from mobile networks) when not moving. Marketing being what it is, nothing we have in the United States from LTE or WiMax comes close to these lofty requirements, despite of all of the 4G hype taking root. So far, 4G isn't really 4G. But when we get there, it will be ludicrous.
So what did the ITU do for the mobile network space during its meeting in Switzerland that commands so much interest? The communications governing body approved two technologies--LTE-Advanced and WiMax 2--as the path forward to mind-blowing mobile networks under the heading of IMT-Advanced. Now that the declaration has been made, development and manufacturing can proceed. Though it will likely take a couple-few years for IMT-Advanced network and handset build-out, it stands to reason that IMT-Advanced will stay on people's minds as they contemplate their future mobile strategies.
All guesses about how IMT-Advanced will truly impact the mobile network space are on the table. As more individuals and businesses alike make mobile data a priority, carriers today are using strategies like data plan terms and WiFi offload to prevent network saturation, which also gets interesting through the lens of IMT-Advanced. Though network speed is easy to get excited about, you can’t get blazingly fast without modulation and antenna techniques that make for better cells and higher capacity for everyone, even legacy non-IMT–Advanced users. Higher speeds and better cells mean better general traffic-handling capability, which has to have some impact on how service plans will be structured.
There is little doubt that IMT-Advanced will certainly come to be recognized as a disruptive technology and will likely challenge notions of traditional networking in many areas yet to see broadband. Testing with early IMT-Advanced components is already well under way in Europe and China, and Internet videos showing beta efforts and results for IMT-Advanced are simply captivating if you follow mobile network development.
Gigabit mobile broadband? Even Dark Helmet would approve.
At the time this was written, I was not being paid by any vendors or organizations mentioned.