BITS & BYTES: 4G is all buzz and not speed

Over the last two years or so cellular providers have been marketing their 4G networks.

The latest software update to iOS makes a 4G symbol appear when on AT&T’s network. The problem is that the iPhone does not support 4G.

Which brings me to my point; 4G is now a meaningless buzz word. Without getting too technical, this is why you should care.

The term 4G stands for fourth generation, and refers to cellular wireless standards. The International Communications Union, which manages those standards, defines 4G for a mobile device as 100 Mbs for downloads. The fastest technology that is being used by cellular companies is LTE, long term evolution, but it is not near 100 Mbs.

The problem is that not everyone is using the same technology. AT&T and T-Mobile use a technology called HSPA+ (Evolved High-Speed Packet Access), which is slower than LTE. In reality, HSPA+ is really just fast 3G.

This means that you may not be getting what you think you are. Many people already believe that the iPhone 4S is a “4G device,” but it is not. Now the phone says it is connected to “4G,” what are people going to think?

It is like going to two different restaurants and ordering steak. One place gives you a fillet mignon and the other gives you a ground beef patty. While they are both beef the quality is drastically different.

I ran a test on three “4G” devices, one on Verizon Wireless, AT&T and T-Mobile. Each device tested the download speed of its respective 4G network using an app by speedtest.net.

The three devices were in the same location. The results were 28.1 Mbs for Verizon Wireless, 1.2 Mbs for AT&T and 3 Mbs for T-Mobile.

This is not a scientific test by any means but it is a real world scenario and does show a sample of what real world speeds are.

A bigger problem still is that AT&T is rolling out an LTE network, what Verizon Wireless calls 4G. AT&T already has a technology they are calling 4G. What are they going to call it? 5G? 4G+?

These companies have made a standard meaningless just to get subscribers. If you are looking for a new cellular provider just ignore all the 4G buzz.