Last week, I was in the States and took my U.S. T-Mobile mi-fi-like “4G” broadband device with me to be able to use the Internet on my laptop without running up a huge bill on my U.K. mobile broadband dongle. As it happens, this was probably unnecessary as almost everywhere I went, from hotels to cafes, I had access to a free wireless hotspot. Also, I had arranged for an international data roaming package to be added to my phone so I could use that for simple tasks such as Google Maps, managing to keep it to around 120MB (of a 200MB limit).

4G Mobile Broadband on T-Mobile USA

I originally purchased the U.S. “4G” device in September and it was quite useful in the past when hotel wi-fi networks have been overcrowded. The latency using the “4G” connection has been great and I’ve had very few issues with network coverage in the major cities I’ve visited, however I have been quite disappointed with the speeds. Although I have not attempted to test the speeds as such, I didn’t find the experience very different to what we have today in the form of 3G (or HSPA/3.5G to be precise) in the U.K. Video streaming did work, but only just, and in-play buffering was commonplace. None of this should be very much of a surprise, since actually the “4G” device is not in fact a 4G (LTE) device at all, but an HSPA+ device! Even though I knew of the incorrect use of the term ‘4G’ on the iPhone, I didn’t realise this device was masquerading as 4G as well!

iPhone AT&T 4G not really "4G"

My iPhone 4S was showing me connected to a ‘4G’ AT&T network. It took some time to explain to my colleague that the 4S did not in fact have a different chipset from his iPhone 4, capable of 4G service, but it was an illusion as Apple have been persuaded by the U.S. network operator to show ‘4G’ because the speeds offered by HSPA+ are similar to some of the lower 4G speeds.

This misrepresentation of 4G is unhelpful and confuses consumers even more when the new iPad is really capable of 4G service (using the LTE standard).

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3 Responses

  1. James on 10 Jun 2012

    Hopefully you’re aware that T-Mobile USA’s 4G is the same as AT&T’s iPhone 4G ? they’re both HSPA+ networks.

    I found last year you can’t buy a pay-as-you-go 4G LTE MiFi unit from Verizon as they want to do a credit check. Something a tourist can’t pass. T-Mobile USA’s PAYG “4G” MiFi is a good stop gap however.

    I prefer the term “Faux-G” for this marketing insanity.

  2. seb on 10 Jun 2012

    James – it looks like you’re right.. I think that makes even more of a mockery of true 4G and shows what happens when marketing departments are put in charge of technology. Added reference to the main blog article to make sure it’s clear to everyone. I like your ‘Faux-G’ terminology :)

  3. john on 21 Jun 2012

    It seems Australia are on the ball with this as they fined Apple for claiming 4G capability on the iPad there when it’s not compatible with 4G networks there.–finance.html

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