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August 27, 2012

Oh Gee, Cell Carriers Fudge 4G Claims

Filed under: Internet,Telephone — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:54 am

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.

AT&T claims:


Verizon claims:


T-Mobile claims:


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).

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  1. I finally have to get a new phone so I have been looking at the various companies, phones and plans.

    NEVER in my life have I made a purchase which is more confusing, difficult, complicated, etc… NEVER.

    Each company has their own lingo, they all act like used car salesmen, it is very difficult to know what you are getting. Instead of them telling what they offer they will tell you what you “need”.

    Just one case in point, I’ve never owned a smart phone, never had internet access. I went to my provider, T-Mobile (of whom I’ve had for years and year). The sales rep looked up my existing plan then told me he would “figure out” what plan would be best for me. He comes back telling me with my “usage” I need a data plan with 5GB data (not the 200MB or 2GB plans they offer, which run much cheaper).

    I asked him how on earth he could “figure out” that I needed 5GB of data since I’ve never once used a smart phone. He just stared blankly at me. I then asked him why I needed 5GB when the “average” smartphone person used 150GB a month. Again, he just stared. I don’t think he was happy that I actually researched plans and phones before I actually went shopping.

    But still, go to any of their websites, go to their stores, it is incredibly confusing to know what you need, what you get, what the costs are, what the “gotchas” are, what the bait and switches are.

    All this for a freaking PHONE!! Seriously, buying a house is easier.

    Comment by Natalie — August 27, 2012 @ 7:35 am
  2. Like the spin in political ads.

    Comment by Rick — August 27, 2012 @ 7:42 am
  3. Is the AT&T one the ad w/ a guy, his phone, and a series of flashing city backgrounds? I saw it last night and could swear that several of those backgrounds were places near each other in Boston. It made it really funny when they said 2,000 more cities at the end.

    Edgar replies: Ron, I had to grab the screenshot I used online to show the fine print, and can’t remember which one it was. The one currently running on TV may be different.

    Comment by Ron — August 27, 2012 @ 9:37 am
  4. I really enjoyed Natalie’s comments. I feel her pain, trying to get data plan advice, not even having had internet service in the past. Wow, she sure jumped in feet first, but how smart she was to have done her research in advance.

    Here’s one thing she and others should consider. At least considering the Verizon data plan I’m on, you can freely change the amount of data you’re buying from one month to the next with no penalty or service charge. ATT also offered that kind of option. My recommendation would be to start off with the smallest amount of data you can stand, and then increase it for the next billing cycle if you need to. And I had to ask; the salesman never mentioned the option to change my plan. Also, as in Natalie’s example, the salesman had recommended 4GB/month. I opted for 2GB and I’m not coming close to using even that.

    Comment by Dan Kap, Whittier, CA — August 27, 2012 @ 10:35 am
  5. Gee, I feel so out of it. I have a simple phone with a camera, which I don’t know how to use. It serves my needs just fine. I have not idea what this data and texting stuff is all about. I can remember when all long distance calls had to be made through the long distance operator. Some how we survived.

    Comment by John P — August 27, 2012 @ 3:37 pm
  6. Cell phone service providers should be forced to provide common plans and only be allowed to compete on price and service just like European health service providers do for healthcare. Otherwise, it’s just legal scamming IMO.

    Comment by anonymous — August 27, 2012 @ 4:24 pm
  7. Actually, building on what Dan Kap said, ATT you can change your data plan whenever you like during the billing cycle, and they will apply that retroactively if you have already went over your data. I don’t know if other networks do this, but I have used it myself. After approaching going over my 200MB for about the fourth time in a row, I upgraded online retroactively to the 3GB plan without penalties for that particular billing cycle.

    I don’t know where the real 4G LTE markets are and where they are not, but I live about an hour north of Philadelphia and use 4G LTE. I’m not sure if it is my newer phone with a better processor, the 4G LTE network or a combination, but I can download and install an app in less than a minute. That is much faster than the previous download times on the 3G network, if that helps anyone’s decision, at least in the Philly area. I went from an HTC Aria to an HTC Vivid.

    I’ve been thinking about changing carriers, but I feel like at this point, they are all sneaky, none of them have the customers in mind and you can’t win, which is why I stay on ATT. I had a bad experience with Nextel when it was in the process of being bought up by Sprint but kept its name, and I have had frustratingly spotty and shoddy “service” from Verizon home products, so I never bought a cell through them. I’ve been thinking about Tmobile, but what’s the difference anymore? I hear prepaid plans are getting better and better and the phones that are being offered through some of them are more up to date than ever before. Who knows?

    Comment by Laura — August 28, 2012 @ 8:51 am
  8. All four major US service providers are guilty of advertising their pre-4G technology as 4G. It got so out of hand that the ITU-R (standards body that defines 4G) actually had to change their own definition of 4G. My point is, AT&T is not doing anything incredibly out of the ordinary— more like just late to the party.

    Comment by Glen — August 28, 2012 @ 10:11 am
  9. See, this is why I use a prepaid phone.

    Comment by Xterra — August 29, 2012 @ 8:52 pm
  10. Prepaid is awesome!
    1. The price you pay includes all taxes except for sales tax.
    2. There’s zero chance for bill shock.
    3. If you don’t need a lot of minutes, T-Mobile has a 5GB plan for $30. In these times in which Verizon is promoting $90 (plus lots of taxes) 1GB plans ($40 for a SmartPhone and $50 for 1GB of sharable data), this is an exceptional deal.

    Comment by Marc K — September 2, 2012 @ 12:42 pm

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