Meet AT&T's 4G -- almost the same as the 3G

Wireless carrier announces new "4G" phones at the Consumer Electronics Show

AT&T dropped a bit of a bomb Wednesday by announcing a lineup of 20 new phones coming to the nation’s second largest network along with an earlier-than-expected roll out of its 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) network and a faster High Speed Packet Access-plus network that could, in theory, patch up some of the service issues that the carrier has been dealing with since the release of the first iPhone in the summer of 2007.

The Wall Street Journal has an article Jan. 6 reporting that AT&T has “pinned the 4G label to its existing network.” This is true to a certain extent, as AT&T has been running derivations of HSPA-plus network as its 3G model, but the architecture is more advanced. The carrier has changed its marketing campaign from “the world’s fastest 3G network” to “the world’s fastest mobile broadband network.”

In the article, AT&T’s chief executive of wireless, Ralph de la Vega, said “The whole industry has come to equate more speed with 4G.” The article also said that consumers will see little difference between HSPA-plus and LTE networks in the near future until richer mobile applications become available to highlight the differences.

According to the WSJ, the International Telecommunications Union, a department of the United Nations, blessed using the term 4G with “advanced 3G networks,” which includes HSPA-plus.

T-Mobile, the fourth largest wireless carrier in the U.S. based on subscribers, also uses HSPA-plus technology to power its smart phones and has been using the 4G marketing label.

The WSJ article said that AT&T and T-Mobile's use of the 4G label has raised hackles over at Verizon Wireless and Sprint. Both companies have deployed technology that is seen as specifically 4G. Verizon already has an extensive LTE network and Sprint has been using the WiMax standard through its affiliation with Clearwire.

AT&T announced on Wednesday that three Android-based 4G (HSPA-plus and LTE) smart phones (what some may call “super phones" defined by chips that run at 1 GHz or more with a screen larger than four inches) coming to the network from each of the major Android manufacturers. The most intriguing is the Motorola Atrix 4G (which will run on a dual core Nvidia Tegra 2 processor) that will be able to dock with laptop PCs to share multimedia functionality and perhaps serve as a wireless router. Samsung and HTC both announced 4G phones coming to AT&T as well.

About the Author

Dan Rowinski is a staff reporter covering communications technologies.

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Reader Comments

Thu, Jan 6, 2011 John Coumoundouros Detroit Michigan

I spent 9 years trying to get decent wireless data from AT&T for a public safety agency. CDPD in 1999 (which was a complete disaster), then GPRS and then EDGE. The police officers are not "Gee Wiz" children playing with toys. They are forced to use this technology as tools for their job. They don't care if there is a Nokia firmware problem in a base controler or any of the other secrets of the universe we seemed to discover along the way that made the network unreliable. They just want to run a license plate to see if the car is stolen or not have to rewrite a 10 page report that just seems to evaporate into space. I'm glad I'm retired and am done with it.

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