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AT&T says T-Mobile is lying to customers by calling HSPA+ 4G.  (Source: SlashPhone)
Another day, another AT&T advertising fracas

Over the course of the last holiday season, Verizon aired a series of ads belittling AT&T's coverage and even mocking the iPhone's slogan (changing "There's an app for that" to "There's a map for that").  AT&T sued Verizonlost the suit, and eventually settled down after Verizon stopped airing the ads incessantly.

Now AT&T has a new target in its quest against what it feels is disingenuous and deceptive advertising -- T-Mobile's HSPA+ publicity campaign.  

HSPA+ is an advanced wireless technology designed to deliver faster download speeds over traditional 3G.  It's not quite a 4G technology -- WiMAX, UMB, and LTE are the "true" 4G options -- but it's more advanced than traditional 3G.  It does however work on existing 3G networks, and only requires a relatively simple firmware update to towers, in many cases.

So what's AT&T's problem?  T-Mobile, the nation's fourth largest carrier has been busy spreading HSPA+ coverage across the Northeastern United States.  Now it claims that it is delivering "4G" speeds.  Neville Ray, senior vice president of Engineering and Operations for T-Mobile writes in a release, "Our competitors are asking consumers to pay more for faster wireless service with limited coverage and very few capable devices.  In contrast, T-Mobile is already delivering 4G speeds today to customers and we continue to make major leaps in expanding our HSPA+ mobile broadband footprint."

AT&T believes T-Mobile's statements are misinformation intended to fool news writers and consumers.  AT&T Mobility spokesperson Seth Bloom comments, "I think that companies need to be careful that they're not misleading customers by labeling HSPA+ as a 4G technology.  We aren't labeling those technologies as 4G."

The wireless standard community seems to side with AT&T on this issue.  They typically refer to LTE as 4G successor to GSM (3G) while referring to HSPA+ with stop-gap terms like 3.5G or "advanced 3G."  AT&T is working on coming up with a plan to deploy LTE, but is first focusing on beefing up its 3G network.  Once those infrastructure improvements are complete it too will complete a quick HSPA+ update to improve the experience while customers await true 4G.

However, it won't be calling HSPA+ “4G” -- it will be calling it HSPA+.  

T-Mobile's HSPA+ service is currently available in New York City metropolitan area, including New Jersey and Long Island, as well as Upstate New York (Albany, Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse); Connecticut (Hartford, New Haven, Milford and Stamford); Providence, R.I.; Memphis, Tenn.; Las Vegas; Philadelphia and the Washington, D.C. suburbs.  It has no publicly discussed plans to deploy WiMAX or LTE, as of yet.  

HSPA+ isn't just a firmware update in some cases, though.  Sometimes it requires more fiber to be laid to the tower to support the higher transmission rates.  T-Mobile is working on this to add more HSPA+ -- a spokesperson says, "Over the next few weeks, we'll continue to put the necessary backhaul in place in these locations to complete the upgrade. T-Mobile expects to have fiber backhaul in place in more than 100 metropolitan areas by the end of the year."

Like true 4G which only works on a couple of handsets (like the WiMAX-ready HTC EVO 4G on Sprint), there's a limited number of handsets that can handle HSPA+ advanced 3G.  T-Mobile will release two next month -- the Android powered myTouch 3G slide and the Garminfone, but currently has no handset for sale that can handle HSPA+.

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RE: I'm not seeing the problem here...
By monomer on 5/25/2010 6:48:39 PM , Rating: 2
Well, to be fair to AT&T, HSPA+ is rated at 42Mb/s, while tests on the first LTE networks are rated at 100 Mb/s using early consumer hardware.

Just because it is faster than 3G doesn't mean it offers 4G speeds.

RE: I'm not seeing the problem here...
By amanojaku on 5/25/2010 7:13:36 PM , Rating: 4
I think T-Mobile was honest and forthcoming.
Using the HSPA+ wireless technology standard, the T-Mobile network currently delivers theoretical peak download speeds of 21Mbps1. T-Mobile’s rapidly expanding HSPA+ mobile broadband footprint makes it easy for customers to enjoy 4G speeds2 on existing mobile broadband devices such as the T-Mobile webConnect™ Rocket™ Laptop Stick.
2 Based on 4G network speeds currently available to mobile device users in the U.S.

RE: I'm not seeing the problem here...
By sigilscience on 5/26/10, Rating: 0
By umop apisdn on 5/26/2010 9:02:29 AM , Rating: 2
Here here! Disclaimers at the bottom of a TV screen aren't exactly forethcoming.

RE: I'm not seeing the problem here...
By jRaskell on 5/26/2010 10:23:47 AM , Rating: 1
You can play semantics all you want, but the ads are definitely designed to mislead people into believing their getting 4G phones, regardless what the fine print says.

You've just described the majority of advertisements across the board, including many from AT&T themselves.

RE: I'm not seeing the problem here...
By Drag0nFire on 5/26/2010 11:16:35 AM , Rating: 4
Honestly, if T-Mobile has to follow each ad with a vocal disclaimer "Note, our HSPA+ technology is not true 4G" for the sake of consumer protection, then ATT should follow each ad with "Note, our network sucks and you should expect dropped calls and slow transfer rates".

Seriously, isn't the point of advertising to talk up your services? ATT is free to take it's own ads to the contrary if it feels it is being wronged.

RE: I'm not seeing the problem here...
By fic2 on 5/26/2010 7:20:47 PM , Rating: 2
Or that AT&T "unlimited" isn't really unlimited.

Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

RE: I'm not seeing the problem here...
By Klinky1984 on 5/25/2010 7:37:22 PM , Rating: 2
100mbit/sec which you'll be capped at 5GB for $30 a month on top of your normal phone bill... At a certain point the throughput doesn't matter as much as the transfer caps.

By mcnabney on 5/26/2010 9:58:20 AM , Rating: 2
VoIP is coming in a big way.

Soon, instead of minutes you will just pay for gigs.

So the caps will be gone, but you will need to pay for a bigger plan if you use a lot.

RE: I'm not seeing the problem here...
By xdrol on 5/25/2010 8:14:54 PM , Rating: 4
Not really. HSPA+ is 112 Mb/s. From the same vendor of your linked 100 Mb/s LTE:

Another question is that you need 4 channels to achieve it, but you also need the same radio frequency width for the 100 Mb/s LTE.

RE: I'm not seeing the problem here...
By monomer on 5/26/2010 12:59:39 PM , Rating: 2
I agree with the other commenter that T-mobile's HSPA+ is as fast as current 4G available in the US (i.e. Sprint WiMax), which they note in the disclaimer.

On the other hand, your post is a little disingenuous, since you are comparing the current theoretical maximum HSPA+ speeds to an actual system. You should either be comparing the maximum speed of each (112 MB/s for HSPA+ vs. 326.4 MB/s for LTE) or actual numbers (21 MB/s for T-Mobile vs. 100 MB/s for Nokia).

By xdrol on 5/27/2010 5:04:38 AM , Rating: 2
Again no, read the links again. LTE was demonstrated with a 100 Mbit/s (not MB/s) data call, and HSPA+ was demonstrated with a 112Mbit/s data call, both with available-on-market devices.

The theoretical maximum of LTE is higher, yes, but none ever demonstrated it yet. I agree that LTE is the mobile access technology of the future, but the claim that HSPA+ is slower is simply invalid.

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