Thursday, June 23, 2011

Legislation Would Require Disclosure of 4G Specs

U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) has introduced legislation that would require the nation's wireless Relevant Products/Services carriers to supply key information about the high-speed wireless offerings they call 4G. The goal is to help consumers intelligently evaluate the real-world performance of high-speed wireless systems.

As Eshoo noted Wednesday, consumers equipped with smartphones, tablets and other wireless devices often experience vastly different 4G speeds depending on the wireless provider and location. And she thinks consumers deserve to know exactly what they're getting when they sign up for a so-called 4G data Relevant Products/Services plan.

"My legislation is simple," Eshoo said. "It will establish guidelines for understanding what 4G speed really is, and ensure that consumers have all the information they need to make an informed decision."

Murky Waters

Unlike most technical specifications, the definition of what constitutes 4G wireless service in the U.S. is not clear. Verizon Wireless and AT&T are building networks founded on an advanced technology called Long Term Evolution, while the networks operated by Clearwire and Sprint Nextel are based on another spec known as WiMAX. And T-Mobile offers yet another set of services based on a technology called high-speed uplink packet access plus (HSUPA+).

All four of these wireless technologies are faster in comparison to 3G, at least in theory. However, none of the 4G claims made by the nation's top five carriers are accurate with respect to the official definition of 4G, noted Gartner Relevant Products/Services Vice President Phillip Redman.

"The ITU is the international governing agency that defines the standard," which is also known as IMT-Advanced, Redman observed. Although this is still a work in progress, "most of the specs were ratified in October," he added.

What's more, none of the top five U.S. service providers actually define what they mean by 4G. Additionally, the real-world network Relevant Products/Services performance of any carrier can vary widely, depending on whether the user is in a rural area or small town or in a congested metropolitan area such as Manhattan in New York City or the business Relevant Products/Services district of San Francisco.

Cutting Through the Clutter

The proposed legislation would function in a manner similar to the government-imposed stickers that automobile manufacturers place on cars to indicate average vehicle fuel consumption under various road conditions. If Congress passes the Next Generation Wireless Disclosure Act, it would require wireless carriers to issue 4G performance guidelines based on specifications that would make it easier for consumers to understand at a glance.

For example, 4G network operators would be required to prominently display key information such as guaranteed minimum data speed, network reliability, and coverage areas at all points of sale. The legislation also calls for the Federal Communications Commission to evaluate the speeds and pricing offered by the nation's top 10 providers of 4G services.

Consumers would be able to use the FCC data for side-by-side comparisons of the services available in their areas. Consumer advocacy groups hailed the new bill as a revolutionary step toward giving consumers the power Relevant Products/Services to make intelligent decisions before signing a long-term wireless service agreement.

"It will help people cut through the clutter so we can compare prices and options, and we can better understand what really constitutes 4G data service," said Parul Desai, policy counsel for the nonprofit Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports.

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