The 4G Confusion Of AT&T

Want to see what a mess AT&T has made by calling its HSPA+ network 4G? Look at my two “4G” AT&T phones below, one the iPhone 4S, the other the Galaxy S II Skyrocket:

The iPhone is reporting 3G speed, even though it’s getting what AT&T would have you believe is its first “layer” of 4G speed, through the HSPA+ network.

The Galaxy II is reporting 4G speed, even though it’s getting exactly the same HSPA+ connection that the iPhone 4S.

The Galaxy II is also reporting 4G speed even though it is NOT getting the much faster speed it would get if AT&T’s 4G LTE network was live in my area. My understanding is that if I did get this speed, it would say 4G LTE.


Apple apparently has prevented AT&T from forcing it to show a 4G indicator for HSPA+ connections — and good for Apple.

Meanwhile, AT&T’s decision to call HSPA+ “4G” means that on what I’d consider the first 4G phone I’ve actually owned from AT&T, that 4G indicator is meaningless unless it says 4G LTE.

For the record, I’ve also got a 4G LTE phone from Verizon, a Droid Charge. Whatever claims AT&T wants to make about HSPA+, my Droid Charge’s speed leaves the iPhone 4S in the dust.


  1. says

    Consumers are becoming less and less educated on what the actual user-experience implications are of these advances in carrier technology. 3G 4G, etc, are becoming buzz words that drive people’s purchasing decisions, even though they have little meaning in terms of evaluating the right carrier for their needs.

  2. shawn says

    I’m not sure what you’re doing using an iPhone for a 4G test, especially considering there is no 4G capable iPhone. Of course it will only show 3G connectivity and speeds, because that’s all it is capable of. I’m hoping this whole post was a “joke” of some sort, like a jab at apple for still not having a 4G phone. Otherwise try comparing products with actual similar capabilities next time.

  3. says

    What I’m doing, Shawn, is saying that I have two different AT&T phones with exactly the same HSPA+ connection that AT&T calls “4G.” On one, the iPhone, that’s instead called “3G”. On the other, it’s called “4G” even though that phone can also do an even faster 4G, 4G LTE — and if it were connect that way, it would read, 4G LTE.

    In short, AT&T phones have three ways to report if they have a 4G signal: 3G, 4G and 4G LTE, depending on the phone you have and the exact signal you have.

    Which is all kind of stupid and certainly not a joke except on the consumer subjected to this nonsense.

  4. says

    I totally agree with your main point in terms of calling HSDPA+ 4G is madness.

    I also think that specifying the speed by technology isn’t helpful, on most Androids how is my mun suppost to know that G (GPRS) is the slowerst, then E (Edge), 3G, H (HSDPA) and then 4G!

  5. says

    Agree with William Jimenez here – it’s clearly a marketing symbol, not a network speed indicator.
    Not sure about the Samsung; but on my older LG Android it’s a good idea to change the wireless setting to “use 2G only”, just because it pretty much doubles the battery life you get from each charge.

  6. says

    I can’t even begin to explain how disappointed I am with AT&T’s approach. It’s obvious that the 4G LTE is a joke. The biggest draw back I see is mainly when I use the Facebook application.

  7. says

    Shawn, are you serious?? Did you even read the article?? Or was this a case of “tl;dr”?

    Seriously, Danny laid out exactly what he was doing and why he was comparing the two phones. If you couldn’t understand that from the article there are really only two possibilities:

    1) You didn’t read the article; you merely looked at the images of the two phones, missed the entire point of the article, and concluded that the comparison was unfair.

    2) Your reading comprehension is so low as to be utterly useless to you.

    I don’t often flame people, but come on, you ripped on the author, who made a very valid point, one that I’ve tried to make to many people myself, and in the end, you did it for the wrong reasons because you clearly didn’t read or understand the article!

    A reasoned response or debate is a good thing to have, but your post was full of nothing but crud. Ridiculous.

  8. says

    Sal, I’m curious as to what you mean? What about AT&T’s LTE is a joke? Is it the coverage, or battery life, or speeds, or what? Verizon is using LTE as well, and while they have slightly better coverage due to a headstart, the two should provide comparable speeds (25-45Mbps).

    Also, what does the Facebook app have to do with the LTE connection? Is it hanging on opening when using the LTE connection, or is it slow, or what?

  9. says

    I’ve actually found AT&T LTE to be very competitive with Verizon, surprisingly so. In fact, at CES, I depended on it for my live blogging, when Verizon was overwhelmed. Of course, that was probably because so few people have AT&T LTE devices that I had a lot of bandwidth to myself :)

  10. shawn says

    Ryne, it must be nice to have the benefit of Danny clarifying himself before you so timely chime in. I both read and understood his original post, but felt it necessary to point out a limitation of the iPhone not having 4G capabilities (as I assumed he was trying to test 4G speeds on a non-4G phone.) Danny clarified his original intent, and I felt no need to beat a dead horse.

    You sir, must enjoy wasting time being a troll. gfy.

  11. John "Ratty" Arbuckle says

    Nah, Shawn, the other guy is right. You sounded like you hadn’t even read the article before you commented. I think an apology by you is in order…