4G? Or not 4G?

Nov 4, 2010
Finance

The ads and other marketing efforts from major phone carriers are touting 4G, the next generation of networks on which consumers download data and use their apps. Sprint Nextel (S), Verizon Wireless (VZ) and now T-Mobile (DTEGY.PK) are claiming they have or soon will have 4G networks. What about the claims? Not so fast… so […]

The ads and other marketing efforts from major phone carriers are touting 4G, the next generation of networks on which consumers download data and use their apps.

Sprint Nextel (S), Verizon Wireless (VZ) and now T-Mobile (DTEGY.PK) are claiming they have or soon will have 4G networks.

What about the claims? Not so fast… so to speak.

In new ads launched this week, T-Mobile claims it has America’s “largest 4G network.” In the past, it simply said it was offering 4G speeds.

T-Mobile takes shots at Apple’s (AAPL) iPhone being handicapped by the slow AT&T (T) network.

TechFlash spells out the T-Mobile piggyback parody of iPhone and AT&T ad campaign. Check out the T-Mobile ad at YouTube.

An AT&T spokesperson says that AT&T uses the same technology as T-Mobile, covers more people and refers to its network as 3G.

AT&T said, “T-Mobile’s claims about 4G are based on the same HSPA+ technology we have deployed to 180M people today, more than T-Mobile’s reported 140M, and we’ll have it rolled out to 250M people by the end of this month, substantially more than the 200M T-Mobile says it will have by year-end.”

T-Mobile USA’s chief technology officer, Neville Ray, says, “We’re confident in our claim, we’re confident in our positioning, and we’ll see what happens.”

Technically the networks are still at 3G speeds, Peter Svensson reports on AP. He writes, “T-Mobile says calling it 4G is justified because downloads are as fast as the new 4G networks.”

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“When consumers look at 4G… if you ask nine of ten, they’ll say it’s about the speed,” T-Mobile spokesman Reid Walker said.

Zach Epstein in BGR calls the claims “4G forgery,” dismissing them as marketing speak.

He says: “T-Mobile does not have a 4G network. Sprint, which first launched WiMAX in June of 2009, does not have a 4G network. Verizon Wireless will flip the switch on LTE later this year and when it does, it will not have a 4G network. AT&T is taking its time with LTE and it won’t fire anything up until next year. When it finally does, AT&T will not have a 4G network.”

He notes that none of these networks meets the definition from standards-setting International Telecommunications Union of what 4G is.

In the end, does any of this matter to consumers? Maybe a little.

It would be great if consumers were not yanked around and lost in the marketing fog. But that’s not going to happen.

The simple point carriers are making is that the networks are getting faster.

Epstein predicts a wave of false advertising lawsuits. He says settling suits will be cheaper than rebranding.

So watch out 5G may be coming eventually — at 4G speeds.

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Howard Wolinsky

Howard Wolinsky is a Chicago freelance writer specializing in health and tech topics. He covered those beats for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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