Recently, AT&T Wireless started UMTS services in Detroit, Phoenix, San Francisco and Seattle. Based on technologies shared with Japan’s NTT DoCoMo, these are, says the company, the first commercially available 3G UMTS services available in the US. That is good news, but is it the whole story? The wireless industry is basing its market strategy on the assumption of an evolution to 4G services, possibly based on orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM). NTT DoCoMo expects to roll out its first 4G services in Japan within three years. Smooth high speed video and other forms of high speed data are among the central benefits 4G proponents are touting and are important reasons for its development. Yet, there are 3G networks delivering them already. WiMAX promises to do the same. So, is the need for 4G inevitable?

According to ABI Research vice president of research, Edward Rerisi, it is about subscriber numbers and demand. Compared to present day 3G, fourth generation technologies, he says, will be able to provide many more customers, with these rich-media experiences, at the same time. It is all a question of the level of demand for data-based services, and there will be a wide variety to choose from. Some users may want video; some may transfer multi-megapixel images and still others might find location-based services, enterprise applications, or any of the other sophisticated data-based offerings more compelling. “In any case,” adds Rerisi, “when consumer demand accelerates, the true value of ‘4G’ will be revealed.” ABI Research’s report, “Broadband Wireless — Last Mile Solution,” examines the technical features of these technologies and the complex dynamics of this market.