One of the things that should drive decision-makers crazy is the imprecise use of terms. A combination of marketers' ambition to "own" a category, the natural tendency to short-hand complex material, and the generally overwhelming nature of technology leads to a lot of confusion.
Network World's Joanie Wexler reports on a Webtorial survey that gauged respondents' understanding of two terms: WiMax and 4G. The crux of the survey results was that about 25 percent of both service provider and enterprise respondents say WiMax is the term they most closely associate with 4G. However, the most common response when these people were asked to define WiMax was mobile broadband, not 4G.
The disconnect is due to the fact that the very basis of the discussions about WiMax and 4G are subtly different. In far simpler terms, WiMax and 4G are apples and oranges. WiMax is a specific approach to transmitting data wirelessly, as outlined in the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers' (IEEE) 802.16-2005 standards. 4G, on the other hand, is a description of what a network with that label must be able to do. The criteria include data throughput levels, roaming and end-to-end use of Internet protocol.
There is a world of difference between the two. While many 4G networks will use WiMax, network operators are free to fulfill the mandate in any way they choose -- as long as they succeed before they affix the label to it. IT planners, CIOs and corporate decision-makers all must be aware that 4G and WiMax are related, but anything but synonymous.
Web 2.0 represents an even greater step into the world of the amorphous. While 4G networks are characterized by tangible and testable landmarks, Web 2.0 is such a fuzzy concept that the industry still is noodling around with the definition.
IT managers, planners and decision-makers listening to various pitches or simply trying to keep up with events must understand whether the discussion is focusing on specific technology, a level of service that a given network will provide or just a conceptual framework.