Whose 4G is fastest? If someone asked me, I’d probably say Verizon, but then again, is Verizon’s 4G LTE network really 4G? According to the International Telecommunications Union, it’s not. While both Verizon’s 4G LTE network and Sprint’s WiMax networks are considered forerunners to true 4G technologies, neither network meets the ITU’s required download speeds of 100Mbps delivered across true 4G technology. Meanwhile, AT&T and T-Mobile are calling their HSPA+ network 4G, confusing a lot of consumers who just want faster data, and to understand what it is they’re paying for.
The good news is U.S. Representative Anna Eshoo of California is here to help, introducing a bill called the “Next Generation Wireless Disclosure Act,” which will force carriers to tell customers (before purchasing anything) the minimum data speeds of the supposed 4G network, network reliability, and coverage of their marketed 4G service. “Consumers deserve to know exactly what they’re getting for their money when they sign-up for a 4G data plan,” the Congresswoman said in a statement. “My legislation is simple–it will establish guidelines for understanding what 4G speed really is, and ensure that consumers have all the information they need to make an informed decision.” We touched on this a bit as the news broke, but until the bill passes and carriers are actually required to spill the beans, it’s only fair to make sure our readers know what’s up when it comes to 4G.
Of course, no one hates this proposed bill more than the wireless industry, which has gotten away with marketing technology that consumers don’t understand, and potentially taking advantage of it. “We are concerned that the bill proposes to add a new layer of regulation to a new and exciting set of services, while ignoring the fact that wireless is an inherently complex and dynamic environment in which network speeds can vary depending on a wide variety of factors,” Jot Carpenter, vice president of government affairs for CTIA said in a statement.
In truth, Carpenter is right. There are a number of different factors that come into play when the average smartphone user starts surfing the web. For one, we share our wireless network. When more of us are downloading apps and checking Facebook, then there’s simply less 4G or 3G to go around, and we all see slower speeds. Secondly, distance does not make the wireless grow stronger. The closer you are to a cell site, the faster your connection will be.
In other words, you might not be getting what you think you’re paying for, namely 4G speeds. Sprint reports average download speeds of 3Mbps to 6Mbps. Verizon’s LTE is said to offer between 6Mbps and 12Mbps average download speeds. T-Mobile promises its HSPA+ network provides average download speeds between 3Mbps and 7Mbps. AT&T refuses to disclose average speeds for both its 3G and 4G services. The average download speeds over a 3G connection range between 500Kbps and 1.9Mbps, so these carriers are still serving up a speedier connection than before. But remember, the ITU requires speeds of 100Mbps to call a network 4G.
What’s interesting is that almost every press release I get from T-Mobile leads off with its network’s theoretical download speeds, which in this case is 21Mbps. This is not a lie. In a lab, on an empty network, T-Mobile’s technology can totally reach download speeds of 21Mbps. In the real world, however, speeds are closer to 3Mbps to 7Mbps, as disclosed above. (I am not singling out T-Mo, other carriers do this too. I’m just using good ol’ pinky as an example.)
The point is, carriers are working hard to make 4G seem like the answer to all our slow-loading woes, and it may very well be a huge step in that direction. But that means it’s on us to be diligent when we shop around among the carriers, and make sure we know exactly what it is we’re paying for. At least until Representative Eshoo’s bill gets passed. “This legislation will empower consumers to make more informed decisions on their choice of wireless service,” Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge said in a statement. “This increased transparency within the mobile space will enable consumers to better understand a product before committing to a lengthy contract with a particular provider.”