Vodacom launched South Africa’s first commercial LTE service at the 2012 MyBroadband Conference last week (10 October 2012). Vodacom avoided the controversial 4G branding despite the fact that its parent company Vodafone has been branding the service as LTE 4G.
The 4G debate is making headlines again because of the launch of LTE in South Africa, and the fact that Vodacom previously opposed the use of the term by competitor Cell C to describe its HSPA+ network.
In 2011 Vodacom won an Advertising Standards Authority of SA (ASA) battle against Cell C’s use of the term 4G.
In its arguments Vodacom relied on the International Telecommunication Union’s (ITU’s) definition that 4G only applies to LTE-Advanced and WirelessMAN-Advanced. The ITU also explicitly stated that it does not view LTE, WiMax, and HSPA+ as 4G.
Vodacom may have wondered whether they will get away with calling their LTE service 4G, but Cell C CEO Knott-Craig sent a strong message to Vodacom that this will not happen.
Knott-Craig told MyBroadband that Vodacom has made its 4G bed, and now they have to sleep in it.
4G battle in South Africa
Vodacom CEO Shameel Joosub argued that while there is no change in what they see as 4G, more and more operators and device manufacturers around the world are using the terms interchangeably. “Modems and handsets are already being labelled as 4G,” said Joosub.
Joosub highlighted the conundrum in South Africa. Globally many vendors and networks are branding their LTE products as 4G, making it challenging (and possibly costly) for local operators to get LTE equipment which is not 4G branded.
Vodacom’s recently launched LTE service uses Vodafone dongles which are 4G branded.
The new Vodafone Mobile Broadband dashboard further labels network technologies as 3G, HSUPA and 4G (instead of LTE).
MTN has been using Huawei LTE dongles for their LTE trial, and these dongles also bear prominent 4G branding.
Even Samsung’s LTE enabled Galaxy S3 smartphone has prominent 4G branding on its packaging and the device itself.
If any of the operators decide to launch their commercial LTE service as 4G it is likely to cause a stir in the market. The bigger question, however, may be how the operators will avoid the 4G branding on their products.