Why some “4G” phones are not quite 4G

Why some “4G” phones are not quite 4G
In today's state of the market, one of the most touted and sought-after features in phones is 4G. Indeed, the ability to take advantage of much faster data speeds, compared to what we had just a year ago, is nothing short of awesome, as we're increasingly using our phones to connect to the internet, for most various reasons.

But are we really getting 4G with all of those 4G-branded devices out there, and could it be so that some carriers are simply using the term in order to make their devices look more attractive, without delivering the true 4G connectivity that is expected from such a device?

4G in networks

Most of you probably remember that the initial rulings by the ITU (International Telecommunication Union) indicated that none of the current carrier networks were 4G. Initially, it was only the next-generation LTE-Advanced and WiMAX 2 technologies that were considered 4G, due to their ability to offer download throughputs of about 100 Mbit/s. However, once the carriers started reasoning that their current services offer significant improvements over standard 3G that shouldn't be overlooked, the ITU eventually decided the all three current technologies – LTE, WiMAX and HSPA+, should be considered fourth-generation.

So far, so good. However, it seems that even with the ITU's now more relaxed understandings of what a 4G network is, there are still some phones on the market, which are branded as “4G”, but actually do not deliver those promised speeds. How come?

Before HSPA+, there was HSPA, an enhanced version of original 3G networks. HSPA (standing for High-Speed Packet Access) was defined in 3GPP's (this is the institution where all these standards originate from) Release 5 and 6, where it is clearly stated that HSPA allows for theoretical peak downlink speeds of 14.4 Mbit/s, and theoretical peak uplink speeds of 5.76 Mbit/s. Again, HSPA is still considered 3G (some like to call it 3.5G).

The HSPA+ standard is first specified in 3GPP Release 7, where it is defined to offer peak speeds of 21 Mbit/s on the downlink, and 11.5 Mbit/s on the uplink. This is the technology that is considered 4G by the ITU.

What about 4G in phones?

And here lies our problem with some of the current phones on the market by AT&T and T-Mobile, which have that overused 4G moniker added to their names. A quick look at the spec sheets of some of those devices shows that they only offer peak download speeds of 14.4 Mbit/s, and upload speeds of 5.76 Mbit/s. Examples for such phones on AT&T are the LG Thrill 4G, Motorola ATRIX 4G, HTC Inspire 4G, HP Veer 4G... while on T-Mobile, such handsets are the HTC Sensation 4G and myTouch 4G. So, even though these handsets do not meet the performance requirements outlined in the official HSPA+ standard, AT&T and T-Mobile have decided to call them “4G”, which is obviously misleading, to say the least.

Recently, we've begun to see phones with the radios that are capable enough to be called 4G, or at least when it comes to download. T-Mobile's myTouch 4G Slide, Samsung Exhibit 4G, Sidekick 4G and Galaxy S 4G are good examples of that. All of these handsets deliver theoretical peak download speeds of 21 Mbit/s, which can be safely considered true HSPA+ connectivity. Well, when it comes to the uplink, those handsets still max out at 5.76 Mbit/s, which is well below the possible 11.5 Mbit/s for HSPA+, so from that point of view, these devices are still semi-4G. But considering that download is more important than upload to most users, let's say that we can live with this.

We inquired T-Mobile, in order to see what their position is with regards to why they are calling those HSPA 14.4 Mbit/s phones “4G”. T-Mobile's explanation was that they think of those devices as 4G, because even if they do not comply to the requirements for peak HSPA+ speeds, they still offer improved latency and better performance (obviously, compared to 3G devices). So, there you have it, the carrier decides that it can have 4G devices, without them being fully compliant to the standards.

We also inquired AT&T, and they first tried to explain that their devices take full advantage of the HSPA+ network in areas where it is combined with "enhanced backhaul". However, this simply means that HSPA+ capable handsets are able to take full advantage of the network in those areas. But when we pointed out that they actually lack such handsets, as all of the "4G" phones in their lineup, except for the Infuse 4G, currently max out at 14.4 Mbit/s (normal, 3G HSPA), they agreed. So it looks like they are just adding that "4G" part in their phones' names for the sake of attraction.

It turns out your “4G” phone may actually not be quite 4G, in case you are using one of those models that do not comply to the characteristics outlined in 3GPP's Release 7 and up. The best way to check if the model you're currently eying or having is truly HSPA+ 4G capable, is to take a look at its specs page on our site. In the General Info section (the first one), under Data, it should say “HSPA+ (4G)”, with maximum HSDPA speed of at least 21 Mbit/s (to be precise, it can have 17.6 Mbit/s download and still be 4G, as this is an additional 4G HSPA+ category, which, however, has not been used in phones).

It is clear that the way AT&T and T-Mobile are acting with regards to their “4G” phones isn't really upright, since a lot of users could be misled to believe they are actually using a device that is compliant to the official standards. To us, this isn't how a company should treat its customers. Now you can share your thoughts below!



1. dhageorge unregistered

isn't this why ppl have been calling their 4G: "4G" right now. This is really non-news we had the definitions for all of these technologies and knew the specs of those phones. Thats why at&t as the "*with enhanced back haul" on the back of every HSPA+ device. So in at&t's mind with new "enhanced" back haul combined with HSPA+ will give people 4G like speeds. they actually laid it all out on their website:http://www.att.com/network/ nothing new really and AT&T didnt really hide anything and that was why i thought everyone was already bashing their 4G already as not being true 4G.

27. jogutier

Posts: 324; Member since: Feb 12, 2010

I think AT&T taught us this back when they would put 3G on their phone that were only edge compatible. LOL!!!

2. bxKIDD unregistered

T-Mobile 3G/4G is still faster then everything else aside from VZW's LTE, and most of the times Sprint's horrible WiMax Service.

4. SF Steven unregistered

The fact that it's faster than everything else except VZW LTE isn't the point: they're advertising something that they're not delivering. It's the same as a restaurant that offers a prime rib dinner that turns out to be gound beef with fillers and slathered in A-1 steak sauce, using the logic that "it's so much better than plain hamburger meat, we feel it's just as good as prime rib". Or selling a car that gets 80mpg* *as long as you're always driving downhill with the wind at your back, in teeny tiny print on page 10 of the paperwork from the car dealer. The fact that it's better is irrelevant, the issue is that they're misrepresenting the product and benefitting from that. If they didn't get an increase in sales for 4G phones (vs. 3G), they wouldn't do it.

13. darth8ball

Posts: 520; Member since: Aug 02, 2011

The precedent has been set in of all places Cable Television. Cablevision announces the fastest internet speeds, but no one gets those speeds. If both the system and user both meet under optimal conditions(never comes even close in reality) those speeds could be reached. that makes their claims possible however unlikely but still legal to advertise. It is up to the consumer to be aware of just how probable those speeds actually happening are and if they are willing to pay for that chance. An informed consumer is their worst nightmare

35. p0rkguy

Posts: 685; Member since: Nov 23, 2010

Actually all ISPs either provide a note saying that they are "capable" of those speeds or say speeds up to xxMbps/xxMbps. Also, I get constant 12-15Mbps/2Mbps on OOL and already planning to upgrade to 50/8.

109. Laron unregistered

Who would thumb this down, it makes perfect logical sense.

33. bigdawg23

Posts: 467; Member since: May 25, 2011

Yes it maybe but they should classify it as "4G". To me these devices are 3.5G at best. Download on both AT&T and T-Mobile can be the same at VZW LTE in areas. My iPHone 4 runs faster than Sprints WiMax. Now when it comes to LTE on VZW remember the use is up where HSPA, HSPA+ and WIMAX are.

3. SF Steven unregistered

I think this falls under "bait and switch" according to the FTC; I think highly publicized lawsuit(s) would be the best way to force carriers to be honest...unfortunately, I bet most carriers lock customers into arbitration to settle disputes, preventing class-action suits. It's their world, we just live in it.

5. Chakra

Posts: 136; Member since: Dec 02, 2009

I agree, I think the FTC should sue these companies for unfair trade practices. Why they don't is beyond me. They are literally lying to millions of people. Thousands of companies are sued for much less than that.

6. PimpStrong

Posts: 310; Member since: Jul 25, 2011

I just wish they didn't say "4G LTE". One or the other should suffice.

7. Alantef

Posts: 288; Member since: Sep 14, 2011

Verizon is by far the fastest! i used it to get online with the PS3 second is easily T-Mobile which isn't slow at all but it gets the job done and last is a tie...at&t sucks and not anywhere near the top two and sprint is not only slow but you CANT stay in 4G for a good amount of time

20. darth8ball

Posts: 520; Member since: Aug 02, 2011

AT&T has been accused by the FCC of overloading data spectrum while they are pleading to have the Tmo merger go through. They also have unused spectrum they purchased last year and I think they are holding on incase the merger isn't approved.

8. snowgator

Posts: 3621; Member since: Jan 19, 2011

I have gotten to the point where I ignore the 4G designation, or at least belittle it. There is 3G, what I refer to as 3G+ when the 4G comes up in conversation, WiMAX, and LTE. LTE stands alone, and I make sure everyone who asks me about phones knows it. I have gone out of my way to talk speeds, not designations,

14. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

when it comes to real world average speeds, VZW is only ever so slightly faster than Tmobile. For 60% less and no overages, I'll take Tmobile. :) Wimax is as slow as it gets for most of the people (exept for ATTs fake 4g), since the clearwire networks are oversaturated which slows it down.

17. taco50

Posts: 5506; Member since: Oct 08, 2009

Remix how is that possible when theoretical speeds on T-Mo are 21.1 and 100 on LTE? AT&T's fake 4G is HSPA+ just like T-Mo and they're launching LTE this month was it? T-Mo is way behind in this area. Also in this article T-Mo actually admits to false advertising.

24. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

because like always, your an illinformed dodo. the top speeds on Tmobile right now are 42mbs, with a real world in the mid 20s to low 30s that ive seen on the data cards. (since we dont have a phone yet that does 42mb/s) The top speeds seen on VZW have been in the 30s in actual usage. LTE-ADVANCED is 100mb/s, which is NOT what VZW uses we have now had this conversation like a dozen times and you still cling to misinformation. wake up. geeze.

30. taco50

Posts: 5506; Member since: Oct 08, 2009

LTE advanced has theoretical of 1gbps an real world of 100mbps or higher. How many times do you have to be proven wrong?

31. taco50

Posts: 5506; Member since: Oct 08, 2009

"Besides the peak data rate 1 Gbit/s that fully supports the 4G" http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/LTE_Advanced

40. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

it is NOT WHAT VZW USES YOU ILLITERATE DODO. Geeeeeeeezus.. how many times a day do your parents smack you for not listening.. ," it was only the next-generation LTE-Advanced and WiMAX 2 technologies that were considered 4G, due to their ability to offer download throughputs of about 100 Mbit/s" its even in the article.. learn to READ. NEXT GENERATION.. AS IN.. NOT THIS ONE! There is no such thing as LTE-Advanced on ANY carrier nor Wimax2 yet! VZW uses LTE basic. Its not gonna get any faster until they pop it up to LTE advance which isnt supposed to be sometime after 2015 when the network is fully on LTE. In that same time period, IF tmobile still exists they are planning 84mbs by NEXT YEAR. VZWs speeds arent going to get faster than the 7-30mb/s they get now for a few years. As of right now in actual speed tests with a 42mb/s card on Tmobile vs an LTE one on VZW, they are both within the same ballpark with VZW taking a slight lead. Either wich way, that shyt is fast.

80. taco50

Posts: 5506; Member since: Oct 08, 2009

right but current LTE has theoretical speeds of 100mbps while T-Mo even upgraded is at 42. That's less than half

83. MAS10X

Posts: 38; Member since: Jul 26, 2011

@REMIXFA you must understand this is the kinda of person that believes that "theoretical" is exactly what you would get in real world usage. As in the iPhone is theoretically the best phone in the market HAHA XP

86. Dave unregistered

Actually, current LTE still depends on the iteration that they are using, and the version that Verizon is using does not have a theoretical max of 100 Mb/s. Within each category of technology there are different levels of upgrade before reaching the next major update. For example, HSPA+ which is T-Mo's and AT&Ts flavor of current "4G" starts at a theoretical max download speed of 17.6 Mb/s (which nobody uses) and has many different levels of upgrade, (currently 21 Mb/s, 42 Mb/s and in a select few networks across the world 84 Mb/s) which at some point many years from now, when it can no longer be improved, will have a theoretical max download speed of around 500 Mb/s. So, currently there are carriers that have deployed versions of HSPA+ that are faster than the current crop of LTE, however, after many years of upgrades and at its' most improved, LTE is expected to have a theoretical max download speed of about 1Gb/s or about twice the potential of HSPA+. This is why carriers are beginning to make the switch to LTE. T-Mo's 42 Mb/s network should actually see realistic speeds of around 27 Mb/s on the downlink although I haven't seen this in action. I have personally seen a 21 Mb/s enabled device getting 14 Mb/s on T-Mo. Verizon's LTE devices are currently running pretty close to this same speed or even slower when connected to LTE. The fastest I've seen an AT&T phone do is 9 Mb/s and Sprints Wi-Max is hanging in right around there at about 7 or 8 Mb/s.

88. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

NO TACO IT DOESNT OMFG. you really are incapable of reading comprehension. VZWs CURRENT version of LTE isnt going anywhere near 100mbs. Its maxed out right now.. done.. period. HSPA+ in its current form can go to 84mb/s with a software upgrade which is coming down the pipes by next summer.

48. biophone

Posts: 1994; Member since: Jun 15, 2011

51. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

bio, 2 things 1) that article is nearly a year old, out of date, and no longer relevant. both networks have sped up quite a bit since then 2) thats from a VZW exec. you expect him to praise HSPA+ from a competitor? LTE is the better technology over all for the future, noone is arguing that. We are talking about speed.

55. biophone

Posts: 1994; Member since: Jun 15, 2011

Well yea i know its a bit old but what it is saying is still valid. Tmobile is speeding up its hspa+ network as much as it can because it doesnt have the funds to invest in lte. So right now it may be almost as fast but in a few years from now it will demolished by lte. Then only existing vzw customers will get unlimited. So in the long run its just better to stick with verizon while they develop the best lte network in america. They got a head start and the coverage will be great.

56. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

U think VZW is going back to unlimited? They were talking about getting away from unlimited when I worked there in 07. Unlimited is bad for the provider. No extra charges and more network congestion. Its only good for us, the consumer. And with the probably Tmo/ATT merger, sprint will be the lone "unlimited" guy left, so what is the market pressure to go back to it? Nearly none unless you see a huge shift to Sprint, but thats unlikely at the moment. Next year (if tmobile is around), they are upgrading to 84mb/s That is a full 3-4 years before VZW is scheduled to switch on 100mb/s LTE Advanced, which should be some time after 2015 when the entire network is on LTE and they are trying to get rid of CDMA. Not to mention when your NOT on "4g", tmobile's 3g DEMOLISHES VZWs CDMA "3g".. 7.2 vs 1.5mbs. So will EVENTUALLY VZW "Demolish" Tmobile (if they are still here).. yes. But if you wanna pay 60% more a month for ever so slightly faster service (we will see after the Hercules launches how it fares on 42mbs) in the hopes that 4 years down the line it will be faster.. thats up to you. Concidering that the 2 year contract disparity between Tmo and VZW ($60 vs $130+) is almost $1700, in 4 years thats $3400 difference. Thats a down payment for a decent car. If you get good coverage from both carriers, why is it a good idea to stick with VZW again? As long as I get good coverage where i live, work, and play, i see absolutely no reason to leave Tmobile even if I didnt work here.

62. biophone

Posts: 1994; Member since: Jun 15, 2011

No what i am saying is people who have unlimited with verizon now will lose it by going to tmobile. Also you can get your prices reduced with verizon when you argue with them as I have done. Also they give other discounts. For example I had 20 per month for unlimited internet. Also i bet you the tmobile sgs2 will have problems for sure. Why you ask because they are debuting it on the 42 mb network which is very new. LTE advanced will demolish hspa+ in terms of speed and coverage and I am sure verizon will get it up once there basic lte coverage is throughout the nation rock solid.

67. remixfa

Posts: 14605; Member since: Dec 19, 2008

Tmobile is unlimited , it just throttles down. And for the price disparity you can get a 10 gig 4g plan on tmobile and still save money, so its still in Tmo's favor. The 42mb/s network has been running flawlessly since late july. Reduced VZW prices = still higher than Tmobile prices. VZW will eventually force people off of grandfathered plans. They do it all the time "if you want to upgrade, you must go to a new plan as these new phones arent compatible with old plans" (AKA, they dissallow certain "granfathered features" to be placed on newer phones). They did it while I was there and they sure arent going to stop. All carriers do that.. except maybe Tmobile. Ive seen people on 12 year old powertell plans. Of course, they were non-data plans so maybe that was the difference. Again, your talking 2015 at the earliest before LTE-A gets dropped on VZW. Tmo's 84mbs network will be up by mid 2012 if the merger doesnt happen.

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