The lie about so-called 4G gets worse

T-Mobile is now claiming that its 3G network is a 4G one. It's a bald-faced lie -- whatever happened to truth in advertising?

My colleagues at PC World reported on T-Mobile's forthcoming aggressive campaign proclaiming that its 4G network is bigger than anyone else's and taking swipes at the competition in its attempts to beat its chest loudest.

The problem is that T-Mobile's claim is a bald-faced lie. Its HSPA+ network is in no way a 4G network; it's simply one of the faster 3G networking technologies currently in use. And of course, as is the case with all carriers, this particular speed of 3G is available only in some locations; every carrier's network is a mix of speeds and standards, even those that are labeled "3G."

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What is 4G? It's the generation that follows 3G, but that doesn't help much with the alphabet soup of meaningless acronyms the carriers throw around for mobile broadband. Fortunately, the international standards body for telecommunications, the ITU, recently decreed what 4G is, and nothing available in the United States today -- including the HSPA+ technology -- qualifies.

Sprint, of course, has also been advertising its WiMax-covered areas as 4G for nearly a year. WiMax is not 4G either, though in Sprint's defense, 4G's definition wasn't standardized until last month. Until then, it could legitimately get away with the 4G label because 4G didn't mean anything. Now it does.

T-Mobile, of course, is launching its 4G claims after the ITU decision, so it can't rely on the term being undefined as Sprint once could. And the company knows it's lying with the 4G claims but figures you don't care. Here's T-Mobile's official statement: "4G is about performance and today T-Mobile's HSPA+ network is delivering 4G speeds that match and often beat WiMAX and are readily comparable to what early LTE will deliver," said T-Mobile's USA chief technology officer, Neville Ray.

Translation: "We'll stick the 4G label on it because we want you to think we're offering something new and special, even though we're not."

If only the FCC and/or FTC would crack down on this false advertising (rife among carriers when it comes to performance claims), adopting the ITU definition as the standard of truth.

If T-Mobile wanted to get attention for its HSPA+ network without trying to sell that ungainly label, it could promote its "3G+" network; that would be an honest way to say it's a little faster than the other guys (this week, anyhow -- AT&T is also rolling out HSPA+). But that's not as bold as using the 4G label, I guess, never mind its lack of relationship with the truth.

I find it interesting that the two carriers in the United States struggling to maintain their customer bases -- T-Mobile and Sprint -- are also the ones using false 4G claims. It shows their desperation. Even if users don't know what 4G really means, they know fear when they smell it.

The next time you buy a mobile device or pick a mobile carrier, here's a handy guide to the alphabet soup of cellular technologies and what generation they belong to:

  • 2.5G: GPRS, EDGE, CMDA2000 1xRTT
  • 3.5G: HSDPA, HSUPA, HSPA+, Flash-OFDM, WiMax (IEEE 802.16d and 802.16e versions now being deployed), LTE (the first 3GPP version now being deployed)
  • 4G: WiMax Release 2 (IEEE 802.16m), WirelessMAN Advanced, LTE Advanced, MBWA (IEEE 802.20) -- none of these is ready for commercial deployment, by the way

Don't let the carriers say otherwise.

This article, "The lie about so-called 4G gets worse," was originally published at Read more of Gruman et al.'s Mobile Edge blog and follow the latest developments in mobile technology at


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