• The Lowdown on 4G

    After reading various reports about Verizon Wireless touting themselves as the the most advanced 4G network in America, I decided to do a little digging to see if they really lived up to this claim.

    I rarely take anyoneís word in advertising. Lots of people can make something big out of something insignificant. Just look at the boat load of hour-long product advertisements on early morning TV.

    In actuality, wireless carriers often confuse millions of subscribers, claiming they have the largest, most innovative or fastest mobile broadband service around. If you donít do your homework, you as a consumer can be left in the dust and regretting your two-year contract.

    Here is what Americaís top four wireless carriers claim:
    Sprint released the first 4G phone and 4G network, which uses Wimax and claims to be in 68 markets according to a press release from the company at the end of November.

    T-Mobile claims to be Americaís largest 4G network. It uses a tweaked HSPA+ network to increase their Mbps. Their website claims ď96 percent of Americans reached on T-Mobile's nationwide networkĒ and that their 4G service is in 65 markets and counting.

    Verizon claims to be the fastest, most advanced 4G network, using technology known as Long Term Evolution or LTE. According to Verizon CTO Tony Malone, users should expect average download speeds of 5 to 12 Mpbs. Verizon's web site shows they just launched their 4G coverage in 38 major metropolitan areas. To the dismay of many customers however, the current coverage impacts laptops with a network card and not cell phones. Verizon expects to begin rolling out their line of 4G phones next year.

    AT&T claims to be the fastest wireless mobile network. While AT&T does not claim 4G, they have vastly improved the speed and coverage of their network, setting up hundreds of new towers according to an article earlier this year in PC Magazine. According to AT&Tís website, they will continue to evolve the network toward next generation technologies like LTE to deliver higher speeds and capacity in the years to come. According to Cnet, AT&T's HSPA+ network will reach 250 million customers by the end of this year and it will be available everywhere its current 3G service is available. So in terms of coverage, AT&T may have the largest, fastest wireless network in the country by year's end.

    After reviewing recent data from Cnet and the four leading U.S. carriers, hereís a
    quick recap of the U.S. markets where they claim 4G coverage is currently accessible:

    T-Mobile takes the lead in 96 cities. Sprint follows in second place, covering 78 cities. Verizon is currently listed in 39 cities, but this service covers laptops only (not cell phones) and 8 of those cities, you will find that coverage in airports only.

    On most major wireless carriers, consumers should expect to see wireless internet speeds between 5 and 12 Mbps on average, regardless if the service claims to be 4G or enhanced 3G service. This is a phenomenal improvement in service considering what we had just a year or two ago.

    Letís take a look at 4G for a moment.

    The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) if you didnít know, is an agency of the United Nations. ITU standardizes technology in everything from cell phones to radios and satellites. I suppose that would make them the ISO of the airwaves. I was involved with ISO regulations for several years. You canít call something one thing, if itís not in line with the global standards. Thatís what international standards were designed for - to regulate a product or service to ensure consumers were getting exactly what they pay for.

    According to the ITU, technology needs to support peak download speed of 100 Mbps to be called a 4G network. Ok, lets back up here a minute. The ITU standards say 4G networks must support peak download speeds of 100 Mbps, but most major wireless carriers offering 4G networks will only net you between 5 and 12 Mbps. That, in a nutshell is the lowdown on 4G here in the U.S. Regardless of which carrier you network through, you are not getting true 4G service and you probably wonít any time soon.

    How do U.S. carriers get away with calling their networks 4G when they are not technically 4G? Good question. I am fairly proficient in standardized global regulations and I donít know how they thought this was a good idea.

    Calling 5 - 12 Mbps 4G is kind of like comparing a DSL connection to a T3 connection.
    There really is no comparison, so why are wireless carriers getting away with it?

    According to a recent article from Cnet, Verizon's Tony Melone said after a press conference on the carrierís 4G service, "It doesn't matter what we label the network. In our subscribers' daily lives this technology will change what people can do. There's no question about that. I think even the ITU would agree this is a dramatic leap in performance."

    Yes, the ITU may be impressed with efforts in the United States to improve wireless networks. I think however, they may have an issue with carriers calling the service 4G, when itís not even really close to 4G.

    I for one am a speed freak. I will gladly take any improvement in mobile broadband speed but also feel at the same time, if itís not true 4G, then donít call it 4G.

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