Thursday, April 19, 2012

AT&T iPhone Owners: Your iPhone Does Not have 4G, but Neither Does Any Other Phone


This is old news, but it is something I have been hearing a lot about lately. Apple and AT&T released a software update for the iPhone on AT&T so that it shows a 4G instead of a 3G when connected to HSPA+. You still don't have 4G, but AT&T likes to call it 4G even though their new LTE (Long Term Evolution) network fits the title much better. LTE isn't even technically 4G. All the carriers want you to think their respective networks are 4G even if they aren't so you'll hop on the new bandwagon.

This is not just about the iPhone either. There are a lot of other phones claim to have 4G that don't really have it, although, the iPhone is quite possibly the farthest away from real 4G standards as it doesn't even support AT&T's HSPA+24Mbit/s network, it only supports the 14.4Mbit/s version of HSPA. Here is a little explanation about what 4G is supposed to be.

This is going to get a little technical, so if you don't know what Mbit/s or Gbit/s keep in mind that a typical home connection ranges from 1Mbit/s to 40Mbit/s.

To be designated as a 4G network you need download speeds of at least 100Mbit/s while moving and up to 1Gbit/s in stationary applications, such as on a house or a person walking with a device. Upload speeds are in the requirements too, but I'm leaving them out to simplify things.

Under this definition, LTE is the closest thing to 4G out there since it has a theoretical max download speed of 100Mbit/s meeting the minimum moving requirement. However, it is theoretical because it is unlikely that you ever reach that speed due to outside interference; this holds true for every wireless technology. LTE's second iteration (much like HSPA's move to HSPA+) will offer theoretical speeds of 1Gbit/s, true 4G, but that is a little ways in the future.

HSPA+'s max theoretical possible download speed is 672Mbit/s, although it has never been implemented by a US carrier. Currently T-Mobile has the fastest HSPA+ variant that operates a 42MBit/s while AT&T's network tops out with the 21Mbit/s variant even though, the iPhone's radio they now claim is 4G maxes out at 14.4 Mbit/s.

To be simple in terms of G's they should be sort of like this.

  • AT&T iPhone: HSPA+ - 14.4 Mbit/s- 3G
  • AT&T HSPA+ : 24Mbit/s - 3.4G
  • T-Mobile HSPA+ : 42Mbit/s - 3.6G
  • AT&T/Verizon LTE :100Mbit/s - 3.85G  
All the carriers plan to switch totally to LTE and then LTE advanced in the next couple of years, but until then it will be a little while before they can actually call their networks 4G. AT&T is the worst offender because the HSPA+ network they claim is 4G is the farthest away from the standard of all the carriers, but they are all guilty of misleading the public. Like I said this was not about bashing the iPhone it's more about bashing AT&T and the other carriers for calling non-4G networks something they aren't.

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