Home' LAPTOP Magazine : February 2011 Contents The term 4G is meant to describe new high-
speed networks that mobile operators are
rolling out across the U.S . As it turns out, none
of the technologies the carriers are using officially
meet the 4G litmus test set by the International
Telecommunications Union, which has many crying
foul. I say quit your whining.
According totheITU, in order for a mobile broadband
technology to meet the 4G threshold, it must deliver
at least 100 Mbps downloads. That means Sprint and
Clearwire’s Mobile WiMax (3 to 6 Mbps), T-Mobile’s
HSPA+ (5 to 8 Mbps), and even Verizon Wireless’ LTE
network (5 to 12 Mbps) don’t even come close to
deserving the 4G moniker. The standards body says
that only WiMax 2 andLTEAdvanced, which are years
away, truly qualify. So is it somewhat
disingenuous for carriers to trumpet 4G?
Yes, but it’s also an effective way to market
what truly is a leap in performance.
Now that Sprint has officially launched
4G in the New York City area, I’ve been
testing one of the carrier’s laptop con-
nection cards in both 3G and 4G modes, and the
difference is truly dramatic. Over 4G, I ’ve seen
download speeds range from 1.92 Mbps on the low
end to as high as 7.55 Mbps. When I switched to 3G,
downloads dropped to between 200 Kbps and 400
Kbps. For those scoring at home, that’s an increase
of about 13 times. If you can deliver blistering data
rates such as these, I don’t care if you call it 10G.
But what do these numbers really mean? Full
websites, including ESPN.com and NYTimes.
com, loaded in 5 to 7 seconds, instead of 17 to
24 seconds over 3G. And I saw a huge advantage
when watching videos on such sites as Hulu. When
I tried to watch a recent episode of Family Guy, it
took less than 12 seconds for the video to start
playing over 4G and 30 seconds or more over
3G. Video playback over 4G was smooth even at
full screen, with the exception of one annoying
dropped connection. But when I tried to stream
the same episode over 3G, it stuttered so much
that I just stopped trying.
Although I haven’t had as much time with
T-Mobile’s HSPA+ network, I’ve been impressed with
the speeds its new myTouch 4G phone offers. On
my commute home, I used the handset as a mobile
hotspot and it consistently notched downloads
from 1.5 to 2 Mbps. That’s pretty darn good for a
moving vehicle, and data rates have exceeded
5 Mbps in New York City when stationary. Having
“4G” also means the difference between being
able to make video calls on the go versus having
to use a Wi-Fi hotspot, which just happens to be
the focus of a new T-Mobile ad. Unfortunately,
the quality of the video calls has been lackluster
thus far, which I blame more on the software
than the network.
Verizon Wireless isn’t just marketing its new
network as 4G but also as 4G LTE, which stands
for Long Term Evolution. As you’ll see on p. 55, this
technology blows away Sprint’s and T-Mobile’s
networks. In fact, it’s so speedy that I’d probably
ditch my cable modem if LTE was available in the
suburbs—and there wasn’t a 5GB soft data cap.
(You pay $10 per GB over that threshold.)
That brings me to the biggest issue I have with
today’s 4G networks. They’re not widespread yet.
Even in our midtown Manhattan office, T-Mobile’s
myTouch 4G often falls back to the carrier’s slower
2.5G EDGE network. That’s a huge drop-off. In the
case of Sprint, its coverage map for NYC has plenty
of holes as well. And even though Verizon offers
the fastest speeds, hand-offs between 3G and 4G
can take up to two minutes. Nevertheless, these
issues are to be expected when you’re revamping
According to Sprint, it now covers 61 markets
with Mobile WiMax, while T-Mobile
has 75 major metro areas blanketed
in HSPA+. Verizon Wireless covers 38
metro areas with its faster LTE network
(plus 60 commerical airports). Con-
nection cards come first, then phones
and tablets. Sprint and T-Mobile have
had handsets for months. Although AT&T claims that
it will have HSPA+ rolled out to 250 million people
by the end of this month, for now it doesn’t have
any phones that offer these speeds.
While I certainly wish these next-generation
mobile broadband networks were available every-
where, fighting over what to call them misses the
point. What’s more important is how much faster
today’s “4G” is than 3G, and the answer is very.
Let’s concentrate on more important things, such
as determining which of these networks offers the
best per formance and value. That’s what consumers
will care about.
the 4g “lie”
Carriers are playing fast and loose with the 4G moniker, but consumers win.
by Mark Spoonauer
“If you can deliver blistering
data rates such as these, I
don’t care if you call it 10G.”
Laptop | February 2011
News & TreNds
Editor in Chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP’s online and print editorial content. He has been covering mobile and wireless technology for more than a decade.
Read his weekly SpoonFed column at www.laptopmag.com/spoonfed, and follow @mspoonauer on Twitter.
by Mark Spoonauer
Links Archive January 2011 March 2011 Navigation Previous Page Next Page