If you just landed here from Mars and needed data service to phone home, you would be confused because most cell companies each make you think they have the biggest 4G data networks. Actually, earthlings might be experiencing the same confusion.
How in the world can AT&T claim that its 4G network has 2000 more cities than Verizon at the same time that Verizon claims to have more 4G LTE coverage than all other networks combined?
The answer is simple (and deceptive): they all define 4G differently.
On AT&T’s website, they disclose that the company calls two different technologies “4G”:
AT&T defines 4G as including its HSPA+ and LTE networks, while Verizon only counts its LTE network. Which one is fudging the numbers? According to the Wall Street Journal, it’s AT&T:
AT&T Pins 4G Label to Existing Network
AT&T Inc. flipped a switch and turned on its 4G wireless network Wednesday. The switch, however, was in the company’s marketing department.
By relabeling its existing 3G network, the country’s second-largest wireless carrier joined the noisy fray over so-called fourth-generation wireless technology, which promises mobile Internet speeds so fast that huge files can be downloaded in minutes and streaming video can be watched without the interruptions of earlier-generation technologies.
As recently as September, AT&T executives had referred to the company’s current network, which runs on a technology it calls HSPA-plus, as 3G. – WSJ, January 5, 2011
So, AT&T is making people think their 4G network is larger by simply rebranding its 3G network as 4G, and adding the 53 markets it offers 4G LTE to it. (LTE is commonly viewed as the truly faster 4G network, and the future of 4G.) Verizon, on the other hand, only counts its 4G LTE cities as part of its 4G network.
Our advice: forget the marketing labels. Find out what actual speeds the various networks in your area provide, and make your cell service choices based on real numbers. (Use SpeedTest.net at cell stores to check actual speeds.)
Note: MrConsumer is a member of Verizon’s Consumer Advisory Board (and often criticizes them for advertising missteps).