Norway Tries to Nip 4G Advertising Confusion in the Bud

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Mobile operators have started using 4G to describe a variety of different services, which analysts and consumer organizations think can end up confusing consumers.

On Thursday, the Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman sent a letter to the operator NetCom, asking it to clarify the use of 4G as a description of its LTE service.

The International Telecommunications Union's (ITU) decision to define LTE-Advanced (Long-Term Evolution), rather than the existing version of the technology, as 4G, prompted the letter, according to Petter Ravne Bugten, senior legal advisor at the Norwegian Consumer Ombudsman. If the current version of LTE isn't 4G, the use of the term in NetCom's advertising campaigns could qualify as false advertising, according to the letter.

The Ombudsman's office in its letter said that it understands that NetCom wants to market its services in a way that is easy to understand, especially in a sector where marketing is often confusing to consumers. However, it is concerned that using the term today can lead to confusion when "real" 4G arrives.

The Ombudsman wants a reply before Nov. 12.

NetCom is still working on its reply, but thinks that using 4G is a good way to say that LTE is the next step after current networks and signal the higher speeds consumers will get, according to Øyvind Vederhus, communications manager at NetCom.

NetCom should be allowed to use 4G to market LTE, because it is such a big step over 3G, according to Richard Webb, directing analyst at market research company Infonetics. However, he thinks that U.S. operators have taken the use of the term too far, and will end up confusing consumers.

Clearwire, and its use of 4G to market services based on the current version of WiMax, has been allowed to set an unfortunate precedent, which has opened the door for a more widespread incorrect use of the term, Webb said. For example, T-Mobile says that the G2 -- an Android-based smartphone that, on paper, can do up to 14.4M bps (bits per second) -- offers consumers 4G speeds. Typically, 4G speeds are considered to 100M bps downstream for users who are moving around, and 1G bps for stationary users, according to the ITU.

"It has become a mess," said Webb.

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