The telecom and networking industries have always been accused (guilty, your honor!) of being in love with acronyms and jargon.  Love may be too strong—maybe chronic overusers is more apropos.  Whatever the case, we use them repeatedly, often forgetting that by doing so outside of our rather significant industry circles we likely are causing eyes to glaze over and headache medication to fly off the pharmacy shelves.

I was reminded of this again last week with the dust-up among some of the major wireless operators in North America over the use of 4G in advertising.  I actually found it rather amusing, not because the big guys were sniping at each other in public but because we sort of lived this with the advent of 3G not so many years ago.  The major difference, in my opinion, is there was way more concern back then about the general public being confused by a term that was too “inside baseball” for most people to understand. 

The current dispute over use of the term 4G in marketing appears to presume that the general public accepts and understands what we mean, especially since they were bombarded—and maybe worn out by?—the use of 3G for so long in past campaigns.  And, I think it’s true.  The industry has used 3G and now 4G so often that it has become industry-focused jargon that has migrated to ordinary usage. 

Really, does anyone outside of the wireless industry truly know what 4G means?  Sure, it must be better than 3G, because four is greater than three… least that’s the reasoning I’m certain many people have—unless they’re golfers.

Speaking of which, maybe that’s the best way to position the various generations of wireless service.  Use terminology similar to how golfers talk about how long of a golf course they played—red tees, whites, blues, silvers, golds, blacks.  In this case, most of the world’s operators are offering services that are either “white” or “blue,” with some now beginning to provide “silver” to us consumers.  

There!  Marketing problem solved, at least to the golfing community.  What do you think?  Should we as an industry market the various generations of networks to consumers and businesses by avoiding telecom industry jargon?  If so, what do you suggest we use?  Discuss…

About the Author

Rick Aspan

Rick Aspan, APR, is vice president of Corporate Communications at CommScope. A former journalist, he has more than 25 years of experience in corporate communications functions in the telecom, internet and networking industries at companies such as MCI, Ameritech and Tellabs.

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5 comments for "4G Or Not 4G…..That Is The Question!"
John Baker

Rick, Very topical and correct. The final 4G technologies standards were only ratified in the last few weeks. However the marketing discussion continues. If we look at what really is being discussed, it is about reaching higher delivery speeeds for services, and the comparison to potential 4G technology speeds using 3G technologies. 3G technologies still have a lot of potential, but can guarantee that the 4G debate will continue.

James Donovan

How true it is to say that the letter 'G' seems to be the communications marketeers biggest asset, it conjures up image of Great service, support and speed. And used in so many parts of the industry, it does not always refer to the same thing. You mention the debate between 3G and 4G, well there is also many who refer to 10G, 40G and 100G and in the database world there are 10g and 11g systems. As printing the full meaning whether it be Generation or Gigabits per second or Gigabytes is often cumbersome to readers, it does leave the context of the rest of any text around the 'G' to make the difference to the interpretation.

David Menzies

Used correctly, industry jargon can impress casual prospects from the perspective of credentialing the company/product/service talking the talk. Buyers think they are getting in on something good if they connect the jargon with an excellent brand or industry leader in a particular field. Basically, non-technical folks want to go with vendors who sound like they know what they are talking about, even if the prospective customer has no idea what the vendor is saying.

Gabriel Guevara

Per ITU none of the US carriers are offering a 4G service, however they are using the term to their advantage as a marketing differentiator. The real marketing strategy is how to meet and exceed customer’s expectations that the new network (what ever you want to call it) is faster and better than any other 3G network.


It is 4G for the network But it is 3GPP 3.9G LTE for telcom personal.

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