Fuzzy Tech Branding: What Does '4G' Really Mean?

4G network

You’ve likely seen it touted in TV ads across the airwaves: 4G phones that will walk your dog, bathe your toddler and make your iPhone look like an Atari 2600.

But just what is “4G?”

In the race to beat the rise of seeming-infallible 3G networks, AT&T has been rushing to release its first 4G-branded phone, which is called such because it involves an upgrade to HSPA+ technology which doubles download speeds over 3G networks. But as Mobiledia points out, “4G” isn’t exactly “4G” at all: “HSPA+ is considered ’3.5G,’ a bridge to true 4G, which offers substantially faster speeds. AT&T, however, has decided to call the network ’4G,’ as evident by its recent branding of the Samsung Infuse as its first ’4G’ handset.”

In point of fact, while all four major national carriers now advertise ’4G’ networks, none of them are actually true 4G. As Mobiledia points out, Verizon comes the closest, with a just-launched LTE network only covers 38 markets so far but offers substantially more bandwidth than the competition.

So clearly, carriers are bowing to the power of easy 3G-branding (if 3G is the great network we’re all used to, 4G explains itself – once we get to 8G it might start to get a bit tired). But AT&T, T Mobile, and the other big players are also relying on customers’ lack of attention to technological specifics. After all, would you pay as much for a ’3.5G’ phone as you would for a solid 4G?