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4G quarrel

Published:Wednesday | October 27, 2010 | 10:00 AM
Mark Linehan, chief executive officer of Digicel Jamaica.
Gary Sinclair, new country manager of Lime Jamaica.
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Mark Titus, Business Reporter

Lime Jamaica has accused Digicel Jamaica of misrepresenting its WiMax broadband technology as fourth generation or 4G, saying it is more likely being delivered from a 3G platform, but the Irish mobile provider has hit back immediately and counter-accused its rival of "sour grapes".

LIME on September 23 filed a formal complaint with the Fair Trading Commission (FTC), and while citing positions held by the International Telecommunications Union, declared that WiMax was not 4G and that Digicel on that basis "does not currently offer a 4G service" and was therefore engaged in false and misleading advertising.

Digicel began marketing its WiMax service in September after pouring at least J$2 billion of capital into its build-out.

LIME and Claro Jamaica both offer 3G broadband.

Claro is planning to upgrade to LTE, which Digicel says, like WiMax, is also considered 4G technology. Other technology experts say LTE might be closer to 5G.

David Miller, executive director of the commission, yesterday confirmed that his office was investigating a complaint of misleading advertising against Digicel.

Regional vice-president for legal, regulatory and corporate affairs, Camille Taylor, in her letter to the FTC, argued that the ITU, the body charged with the establishment, definition and regulation of technology standards for global use - in response to a request from LIME for clarification on locations where the technology has been implemented - has said that it has no record of any 4G systems.

"While we continue to expect companies to claim that their technology is 4G or 5G or xG, there are no IMT-Advanced ('4G') systems being implemented yet," Facey's letter said, quoting Sanjay Acharya, chief media relations and public information officer at the ITU.

According the Acharya, the 4G standard is expected to be finalised by early 2011, at which time it is believed that all countries will switch from 3G to the more superior technology over time.

"Based on the position of the ITU, LIME is of the understanding that WiMax is a 3G, not a 4G service and, therefore, that Digicel does not currently offer a 4G service," Facey said.

"4G standards not having finalised internationally, Digicel cannot accurately say that it offers 4G in Jamaica."

But Digicel is pushing back hard against LIME, scathingly suggest-ing that its claim smacks of desperation, while also naming countries in which it says 4G technology has been deployed — the United States through Sprint; P1 in Malaysia; Clearwire in Spain and Yota in Russia.

"Clearly, the launch of Digicel 4G broadband technology in Jamaica has put Lime on the backfoot - it seems they are hurting and this is a clear case of 'sour grapes'," the company commented to Wednesday Business by email.

"The fact is that many companies have rolled out 4G WiMax technology and, like Digicel, their customers are today enjoying the benefits of having wireless broadband that is easy to access, convenient and affordable."

Digiel's mobile service is available nationwide, but its wireless broadband is to be rolled out in phases.

Alex Boothroyd, Digicel Group chief executive officer for WiMax, previously explained the offering this way: "The way it is defined, it is the fourth generation of wireless technology and it is a standard that is being defined and ratified by the ITU and the WiMax forum," he said.

"They call it fourth generation because it is wireless data services and it provides speeds through the radio waves significantly greater than what is available through 3G technology."

But if speed is the basis on which Digicel is seeking to define superiority, LIME pointed out to the commission that at the recent meeting of the ITU 4G working group, it was agreed that the objectives of the 4G wireless communication standard would be targeted peak data rates of up to 100 Mbps for high mobility between any two points in the world and up to 1 Gbps for low mobility, among other requirements.

Digicel defines its technology as "WiMax 16E", the same it says as that offered by Sprint, P1 and Yota.

WiMax 16E or WiMax/IEEE 802.16-2005 is described by www.radio-electronics.com as being able to provide data rates up to 15 Mbps and the cell radius distances are typically between 2 and 4km.

Digicel, however, pointed out that it will be "able to upgrade easily to the newer standard (when ready) as WiMax was designed with an open architecture".

In the letter to the FTC, which was obtained by Wednesday Business, LIME stated that the representation that WiMax is 4G and that 4G is being offered by Digicel in Jamaica is likely to mislead consumers, who would be convinced through the promotions and persuasive advertising that the mobile giant is referring to a better service or offering more speeds and functionality than 3G.

The complainant further suggested that FTC actions to be taken against Digicel for the alleged breach should include mandatory publication of a clarification, retraction or apology in as prominent a manner as the '4G' advertisements have been published; cessation of all advertisements proclaiming to offer 4G until such time as the ITU confirms the relevant standards and Digicel is able to demonstrate that it complies with such standards; and the grant of redress to consumers who were misled by the relevant advertisements and who purchased the relevant modems or packages but have not received the level of functionality they anticipated.

mark.titus@gleanerjm.com