Let me paint a hypothetical painting for you. You need a new smartphone, and all four of the US' major carriers claim to have 4G. However, as you're walking in and out of AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint stores, you realize that one carrier's "4G" speeds are different than another's.
While this might not have been a major problem when the first 4G devices starting arriving to the market, it's a serious issue now. HSPA+, LTE, and WiMAX are what the carriers in the picture use. AT&T even uses HSPA+ and LTE. Sprint uses LTE and WiMAX. So if you're an average consumer trying to get the best data speeds, how the heck are you going to choose? Join me below as I discuss the marketing and technologic issues surrounding the whole concept of 4G connectivity.
To start things off, let's talk about the true definition of 4G:
4G (the fourth generation of cellular wireless standards) is the successor to to the 3G and 2G standards. In 2009, the ITU-R organization specified requirements for 4G: 100Mb/s for high-mobility communication (such as trains and cars,) and 1Gb/s for low mobility communication (pedestrians and stationary users.)
Unfortunately for every carrier, they don't meet those requirements. In fact, T-Mobile currently has the fastest (theoretical) speeds at 42Mb/s down, but will typically only reach around 10Mb/s. Meanwhile, AT&T's HSPA+ taps out at 14.4Mb/s down. Yet both of them are categorized as 4G technology.
AT&T is so set on naming its own HSPA+ network as true 4G that it's already starting to demanding that Apple put 4G into the network status on the new iPhone 4S. It's definitely faster than AT&T's typical 3G network, but I don't think it quite fits those strict requirements for 4G technology.
Sprint has completely different thoughts about 4G, as well. It's currently providing WiMAX to its users, which typically gets 13Mb/s down. Later this year, like Sprint announced today, it will be rolling out its own LTE network, which is planned to replace the carrier's dependence on WiMAX.
Finally, Verizon has "4G" speeds, as well. 28Mb/s down is typical for Verizon's LTE network, making it the fastest out of the entire bunch. But that doesn't mean much; it's still 72Mb/s off of the regulations.
There are plenty of government entities that could step in and tell carriers to step down in their blatent lies to consumers about what 4G technology really is. But the sad reality is that it's not going to happen, at least not any time soon. That's mostly due to the fact that most consumers, because they are uneducated in what 4G is, don't know any better. And as long as that happens, no one will complain, and nothing will be done.
Is this something upsets you about the US carriers? It certainly upsets me. But I want to hear some thoughts from you guys.