In an effort to make itself look more advanced, late last year, T-Mobile USA started calling its wireless data network a “4G” network.
Up until then, T-Mobile had referred to the very same network as a 3G network. Then, overnight, entirely through marketing magic, it became a 4G network. Early this year, AT&T started doing the same thing.
So what’s the deal? Isn’t this just a complete lie? Or at very least, how isn’t it dishonest marketing? (Historically, industry watchers had reserved the “4G” name for new networks based on “LTE” technology, not the older networks based on “HSPA+” technology.)
We posed this question to T-Mobile executives this morning at a media breakfast event in New York. Their two-part answer:
- From a consumer’s point of view — and therefore, we assume, a marketing point of view — “4G” is mainly about speed. It’s important that networks labelled “4G” have a certain download and upload speed, and a certain quality. T-Mobile thinks its HSPA+ network will be able to deliver the same speeds as Verizon’s LTE network, so why get touchy about the naming? (See chart below.) We’d add that research shows that consumers don’t even know what “4G” means, anyway, and they don’t care.
- From a standards point of view, late last year, the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) said it was legit to start calling HSPA+ networks “4G,” even though it had not been in the past. Was this the result of lobbying from carriers who want to make it look like they’re offering something new and improved when they’re not REALLY offering something THAT new? Maybe. Who knows. But now it’s OK to say.
Here’s a chart from T-Mobile’s investor presentation today. On the left, it shows that HSPA+ is going to keep getting faster — even possibly 672 Mbps (!) someday in the future. On the right, it purports that it will be able to deliver the same speeds using HSPA+ as other carriers would be able to deliver via LTE.
If this is true, then it may actually be legit that T-Mobile is calling its 3G network a 4G network. But it still feels a little weird. We’ll see over time how the networks perform.
Photo: T-Mobile / Deutsche Telekom