Some Cellphone Companies Fudging on 4G Claims
You can’t believe everything you read. This point was driven home recently by two full-page ads in The Wall Street Journal.
On April 18, the Journal ran an ad for T-Mobile, which promoted itself as “America’s largest 4G network.” On April 19, a similar ad appeared, but this time touting AT&T as “the nation’s largest 4G network.”
In reality, both of these companies are fudging the 4G moniker to make it look like they are the largest. In my opinion, neither has the largest “true” 4G network.
For a little background, 3G and 4G are generic terms that stand for third generation and fourth generation mobile networks. As you might expect, each generation has better technologies and faster speeds.
The actual technical definition of what can be classified as 3G and/or 4G is controlled by the ITU (International Telecommunication Union), which is a governing body of the United Nations that specializes in communication information and technologies.
Surprisingly, if you go by the strict requirements, no current “so-called 4G” network in the United States actually meets the requirements necessary to be called 4G. However, because of the complexity of the technologies involved and the fact that you do not have to implement all of the features of these technologies to be put in a certain bracket, there is a lot of fudging going on. The term 4G is simply a category name, and thanks to the ITU, it is a very fuzzy one at best.
Both AT&T and T-Mobile have a very large investment in a technology called HSPA+. This is an evolution of the 3G network technology that increases 3G speeds, allowing them to go up to 21 megabits, which gives them speed similar to many broadband connections that are used in our homes. It is a very good technology, but it is not really 4G.
A few months ago, T-Mobile started classifying its HSPA+ networks as 4G, and AT&T quickly followed suit. They are getting away with this because of the ambiguity of the ITU’s requirements. So now there is an ensuing battle over which company has the largest 4G network, when technically, neither one does.
The technology that is currently the fastest and the closest to a real 4G definition is called LTE, which stands for long-term evolution. It is a poor choice of nicknames, because many people think of it as a “light version,” which is very far from the truth.
LTE is not the same as HSPA+; they are completely different networks. Right now LTE provides the speediest connections with the least latency. Verizon has the largest LTE network, and AT&T is expanding its LTE network. HSPA+ is only an interim solution until LTE is fully deployed.
If you are choosing a mobile carrier based on their technologies, there is one other complication. Sprint is currently employing a technology called WiMax. Like LTE, WiMax is closer to a true 4G technology. Sprint doesn’t currently have enough WiMax to enter into the “largest” competition.
Although WiMax is very robust, it has one fault. WiMax uses a very high radio frequency for transmitting data, and this makes it more difficult to penetrate buildings. Because of this, I don’t think that WiMax will be a major contender in the 4G competition.
So now that you know a little more about 4G, the question is, should you really care? If you plan on purchasing a smartphone in the near future, the answer is yes. You will get a faster data experience with all three currently labeled “4G” technologies: HSPA+, WiMax and LTE. Websites will appear faster, videos will play better, and services such as Pandora will stream better on 4G.
As far as who has the largest network, unless you currently travel all over the United States, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is the strength and speed of the connection that you get at home, in your office, and in the areas where you travel regularly.
Unfortunately, companies like T-Mobile and AT&T are not only fudging the technology names, they are misleading consumers.
In researching this article, I came across a video on the T-Mobile website that was touting T-Mobile’s speed by comparing a T-Mobile Samsung Galaxy S II with a Verizon iPhone 4S. Of course, the T-Mobile phone is faster. It is a 4G phone. Verizon’s iPhone 4S is a 3G phone.
Tsk, tsk to T-Mobile for trying to pull the wool over the eyes of unknowing consumers. And tisk, tisk to both T-Mobil and AT&T for their ads that blur what they are really offering to make it sound better.
Contact Sandy Berger at email@example.com.
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