Wireless carriers in the U.S. have had no issue with throwing the "4G" term around to promote their respective networks, even though technically none of them meet official specifications established by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) – the authority on such things. Well, it now seems that the latter has conceded defeat at the hands of the carriers' marketing departments and is softening its stance on which technologies can legitimately be called "4G".

In a statement issued over the weekend, the standards body said that while it's standing firm on its original IMT-Advanced specification, which only WiMAX 2 and LTE-Advanced are currently expected to meet, the term "4G" realistically could apply to the forerunners of these technologies and to other evolved 3G technologies providing a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third generation systems now deployed. In other words, LTE, WiMAX, HSPA+ and any other evolved 3G technologies.

The decision has little practical relevance as carriers were unlikely to stop branding their service 4G anyway. That said, true 4G speeds are still a few years off – T-Mobile, Verizon and Sprint's networks all operate at speeds between 3-12Mbps while the term was originally intended for networks sporting mobile data rates of 100Mbps.