Industry Voices: Lowenstein's View--The worst acronyms in wireless

Mark Lowenstein

Late last year, in the middle of a "wireless 101" presentation to a consumer packaged goods company, somebody stuck their hand up and asked what "EICIC" stands for. I was stumped. Or maybe I didn't sleep well the night before. No, I was stumped. Wikipedia to the rescue. But this got me to thinking that yes, there are lots of silly and over-the-top (does OTT apply to that?) acronyms in our industry. For a consultant like me, acronyms like EICIC are actually a good thing, because I can sound smart by simply remembering what EICIC stands for, rather than actually knowing what it does or how it really works.

The funny thing is, some of these acronyms have actually found their way into products and services we actually try to market to consumers. Like VoLTE. The PR person or carrier marketing exec who thought this would be a good idea should be fired. Try explaining what VoLTE is to someone like my spouse, who still doesn't really understand the difference between cellular and Wi-Fi. Some acronyms make sense in the consumer world: NASA, DVR. But MIMO? RCS? What are we thinking? So, with this preamble, here's my list of the Worst Acronyms in Wireless (WAW, for starters), plus a little bonus round at the end.

CES. Thought it would be fun to start with this one, since CES starts tomorrow. Because this acronym is no longer an acronym. According to the folks at the CEA, CES is no longer the "Consumer Electronics Show." It's just CES. OK, makes sense.

CTIA. Since we're on the subject of industry associations that don't change their acronym even when they change their name, why do we still call it CTIA when it is now "The Wireless Association"? I think we should bring back "Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association." It would be hip and retro, like vinyl records and Star Wars.

EICIC. Don't even ask me to remember what it stands for. But it sounds like an invasive medical procedure, or a pharma product. "Taking EICIC might cause gastrointestinal distress."  

ISIS. I know the carrier mobile payment initiative (actually, is it still a thing?) prudently and a little belatedly changed its name. But even when ISIS was ISIS, and before really mean ISIS, I thought that ISIS was still that show that came after Shazam on Saturday mornings (before Shazam was 'Shazam').

VoLTE. How was this one not already trademarked by some company in the battery or power industry?

EV-DO. OK, absolutely no one except some engineer at Qualcomm knows what this stands for. But even though we have moved on, to 4G and even 5G, I hear that EVDO (or is it EV-DO?) is going to be revealed as BB-8's sister in the next Star Wars movie, which apparently is being released by next week, because apparently breaking all box office records still doesn't lift your stock price.

1x EV-DO Rev A.  This is about the longest and most unwieldy wireless acronym ever. Also the most likely to somehow get wrong every time you write it. But it's actually become useful again, as the only password combination my bank thinks is "strong enough."

HSDPA and HSUPA. If you can't remember the distinction between the two, just remember that HSDPA is the good kind of cholesterol and HSUPA is the bad kind of cholesterol.

HSPA, HSPA+, etc. Now I understand why AT&T threw up its hands and just called it "4G."

Throttling. OK, it's not an acronym. But it's possibly the least consumer friendly term ever conceived by the wireless industry. Who thought 'throttling' could ever connote something good?  Actually, John Legere has thanked the wireless gods for this term, in the way Jon Stewart would thank Donald Trump or former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford for giving him fantastic material to work with.

TLPS. This actually stands for Terrestrial Low Power Service (I looked it up). Makes a lot of sense that an acronym that stands for "low power service" is actually being marketed as "super-fast Wi-Fi."

MIMO. I thought MIMO was bad until all the flavors of MIMO started coming out, like 8T/8R. But MIMO is just the name of a character in the new Japanese anime my son is reading, or the hot-selling new doll this Christmas season.

OFDM. Now, this is a really hard one to remember. But if you do, and say the word "orthogonal" (and can spell it right the first time) in a presentation, you'll sound super smart. 

1xRTT. OK, this acronym, while being another contender to get past the password Nazis, is also so ridiculous we just always called it '1x'. And now, when you see "1x" on your phone, you know it's the wireless data equivalent of a bad hair day.

RCS. This stands for Rich Communication Services. And yes, we are actually trying to market this to consumers. In an election year. I hear that the new ad campaign for RCS is "Wireless Service for the 1 percent."

M2M. Sounds like a new music group or sexual position. Bu I actually feel bad for M2M, because M2M had a fight with IoT and lost.

IoT. Speaking of IoT, it won because it sounds only slightly less pretentious than "Internet of Everything."  

EIP. How did we allow Equipment Installment Plan to describe the way we pay for some of the most advanced and highly desired products on the planet?

OTT. Whether it's OTT for TV, like Netflix, or OTT for messaging, like WhatsApp, have you actually tried to explain what OTT actually means, to a real person? And just for the record, what's actually more 'over the top': OTT or that $200 cable bill?

SaSS. First of all, how did we every get away with this acronym to begin with? And now, of course, just label everything "aSS" (yes, really), and you're an instant Unicorn. Or it just sounds sexier (couldn't resist). As in:

  • Going out for dinner: Cooking as a Service (CaSS)
  • Getting your house cleaned: ClaSS
  • Uber and Lyft:  DaSS
  •  The local babysitter: ChaSS (Child Care as a Service).
  •  The world's oldest profession: Yup, SaSS (shoulda trademarked it!)


Here are a few other items, not necessarily acronym related.

Hardest to spell or pronounce: (two-way tie): Xiaomi and Huawei. I get it wrong. Every. time.

Worst Term in Wireless, after "Throttling": RCS. Nobody has actually determined what RCS actually is. Or are. But I'm sure Bernie Sanders would be opposed to it. Or them.

A goal for 2016: Can we please finally settle, once and for all, on the following:

  • WiFi or Wi-Fi?
  •  Email or E-mail?
  • IoT or IOT?
  • Is it "carrier" or "operator"?  (it was 'operator' until John ruined things with UnCarrier.)
  • Speaking of which, UnCarrier or Un-Carrier?
  • Is it "wireless" or "mobile"?

Worst Official Naming Convention. I finally realized why Samsung has been struggling. It's the Galaxy naming thing. It was one thing when it was just Galaxy. But things headed rapidly downhill once we had to remember what "Galaxy Note Edge 6 Mini" is supposed to actually be.

Most Mis-Used Term in Wireless: MDM. What started as a fairly straightforward tool for enterprise now represents the entire kitchen sink. So much so that it's spawned a whole bunch of ridiculous cousins, such as MAM, MXM, MOM, MWM, MZM…. Have I missed any?

Finally, there's one question I am hoping to answer once and for all in 2016: Why is Wi-Fi free at the Courtyard Marriott but $19.99 at the Four Seasons? I suppose for the same reason bottled water is free at Four Points Sheraton and $8.50 at the "W."

Have a great 2016!

Mark Lowenstein, a leading industry analyst, consultant, and commentator, is Managing Director of Mobile Ecosystem.  Click here to subscribe to his free Lens on Wireless monthly newsletter, or follow him on Twitter at @marklowenstein.