Will AT&T create an iPhone 4G before Apple does?

Will AT&T create an iPhone 4G before Apple does?

Apple doesn't currently make or market an iPhone 4G but given recent North American marketing shenanigans by the carriers, they might just get one sooner than anticipated. There was a time, you see, where 4G applied to really fast, really next generation mobile connectivity, like fully implemented voice/data LTE approaching 100 Mbps. Then Sprint launched Wi-Max as 4G. Then T-Mobile rebranded HSPA+ as 4G. Then Verizon deployed early stage LTE as 4G. Then AT&T rebranded their slower HSPA+ as 4G. 100 Mbps got shoved aside, and 21 Mbps, even 14.4 Mbps became "4G". Canadian carriers, which had previously called their 14.4 Mbps and even 21 Mbps HSPA+ networks "3G" have recently rebranded them to "4G" as well so as not to seem old and outdated. (For more on what all these terms mean, check out our networking glossary.)

No doubt it's easier to change a name than change a network, and easier to slap the letters 4G onto a phone than actually getting a real, power efficient, lightning fast 4G radio into one. But that's no excuse.

Verizon is arguably the closest with their early stage LTE deployment and phone like the Thunderbolt that don't get great battery life but do get amazing speeds.

My counterpart over at Android Central, Phil Nickinson has done a review of the Verizon LTE HTC Thunderbolt (and also told the carriers to kindly cut out the 4G smoke in our eyes), while PreCentral.net's Derek Kessler has just reviewed the AT&T HSPA+ HP Veer 4G.

The iPhone isn't expected to go LTE until 2012 but iPhone 5 might just go HSPA+ this fall. (14.4 or 21 Mbps, who knows?) And guess what, AT&T will probably call it "4G"...

...Especially since the CDMA version on Verizon will still be "3G" EVDO Rev A for another generation.

That's a huge competitive advantage, but hugely confusing for users.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Will AT&T create an iPhone 4G before Apple does?


Verizon is straight garbage had it for two years no happier day than when that contract was over a huge thing for me is voice and data same time usage

W.e i have Verizon now and call quality is amazing no drop calls and I'm 3 months strong with AT&T the iPhone 4 had 3 or more dropcalls with Verizon none one and my speeds are faster and i payed more on a single plan with AT&T then i do now Witt Verizon and oh yea i have unlimited data

I don't think Apple would allow that. Unless Apple wants to call it the iPhone 4G. If Apple was really ballsy, they could just call the next iPhone the "iPhone 5G", because it's the 5th gen iPhone, and the "G" doesn't really mean anything anymore anyways in terms of network technology :-)

I don't think AT&T would be able to do that. Apple has to make a phone to handle 4G speeds first. Like more battery life..

The next iPhone is supposedly going to support HSPA+. And since AT&T has been labeling every single phone that supports HSPA+ as "4G"...

The carriers are calling pre-4G technology "4G" for a reason. Real 4G combines voice+data into a single IP packet stream. The carriers' spreadsheets no doubt tell them that tiered data plans make them tons of money. So it's to their benefit to maintain the myth of separate "minutes" and "data" plans.
The carriers don't want us to know when the real 4G is actually available. They'll just call it "faster 4G" and not mention that voice and data are no longer separate.

If AT&T calls their 3.5G 4G, verizon can bundle the 4G LTE MiFi with the iPhone and give it real 4G

The article that you are commenting on just said Verizon early lte isn't 4g anymore that AT&T's... You must have missed that...

Well that article would be wrong since LTE is essentially the foundation for moving to LTE Advanced, a "true" 4G tech. HSPA+ on the other hand is the end of GSM's 3G tech and really more a dead end that will cost AT&T in the long run if they don't dupe enough people into buying service for it.

I don't understand why they don't just put a LTE radio in the next iPhone so people won't have to get the iPhone in the following year. I guess that's they're way of making people want to buy a new iPhone every year.

For the same reason apple didn't put a 3G radio in the first iPhone. Battery life is atrocious. The thunderbolt gets around 3 hrs when 4g is on, and the wimax phones on sprint aren't much better. Once there is a better balance of performance and battery life, Apple will jump on board, but not a moment before then.

It is so irritating that all these carriers rebranded their 3.5g networks to fake 4g. I used to tell all my Sprint and T-mobile friends that they were being lied to and weren't getting true theoretical 4g speeds. I didn't think at&t would stoop that low and then they did. I wish the mainstream consumers knew what was actually going on. At least we know.

Well first of all you should know AT&T would stoop that low.
Second, Sprint and Verizon have actually implemented 4G technologies. They're the early forms of them so no they don't reach the theoretical maxes but they are foundation technology for the theoretical 4G speeds. Spending on either only helps them build out the technology.
T-mobile and AT&T on the other hand are trying to play the mature forms of GSM 3G as 4G to have to spend less on their network and dupe people into the service.

I dont understand this obsession with download speed for phones. The only times when this is really a big issue is when you watch HD video or download large files, and both those tasks seem to be things one usually does at home when watching an online movie or downloading a torrent file. HD Video for phones, like for example from youtube, or browsing even elaborate websites is plenty fast on 3G. For the average consumer the only 'more' in 4G really is the likely more in cost.

Compare browsing on 3G to browsing on WiFi. Apply that to apps pulling down data also. Not to mention tethering there is a world of difference between Verizon 4G and any other 3G, and it's very much noticeable when doing activities other than downloading large files or streaming video.

The biggest difference between 3G and a home WiFi connection is actually the latency. Once you get past 1.5mb/s (which you can do quite easily with the iPhone on AT&T) web browsing and video streaming is about the same. It's the terrible latency on 3G that's the killer and HSPA+ doesn't fix that and I don't think the current LTE implementations do either.

I'd take 14-21megs in a second!! My home internet doesn't even consistantly push that out.. But knowing att, it'll be watered down to like 3 megs on a good day

If we waited for wireless carriers to get 100mbps to dub it 4G, we'd have 4G in 2020, MAYBE. What's funny is this isn't an engineer naming it 4G, it's branding and advertising. BUT IT MAKES SENSE. Faster than 3G....4G....it would be horrid to call it 3.5G. 3.6G. I say 40mbps down should be 5G. 70 should be 6G. 100 should be 7G.

Well Sprint and Verizon are actually implementing new networks, so them calling their networks 4G makes sense. T-mobile and AT&T are just implementing new revisions of their current network technologies. They're the ones really being deceptive here.

I thought iPhone 4 could do faster internet speeds than 3G. Something like 7.2? If so, is ATT skipping that?

So it depends on the network strength in your area to what speed you actually get? My current 3G speed is .32mbps.

I really hope one of two things happen
1. Apple says that the iPhone with HSPA+ is an 3G iPhone and fights for the consumer and keeps AT&T because apple does not want a 3G phone and a "4G" phone
2 I would really like every blog stop calling HSPA* 4G and even replace any branding with 3G example call the veer 4G just the veer. Carriers read the media/blog sites and they would be forced to change it.

If you must tout a product, then at least push something that is cool. This jacket/pullover is the ugliest plastic wear I have ever seen. One probably has to be a super creep to want to wear that... LOL

Rene, I couldn't agree more. Back when I first learned about LTE, and that it would become what would be "4G", I was SUPER stoked about its arrival. Then I heard exactly what you wrote about above, and I slowly became more and more disappointed with the American carriers, as a whole (yes, I'm American. I live in WA). It's frustrating to see the misinformation being thrown around, and people getting excite for something that's not really there. Verizon did get me excited again for LTE, but like you said, they released it a bit early (probably just to stay relevant) and it's not where it should be. Good article, Rene.

It is indeed very confusing for users with all the claims. Are they allowed (legally) to use the 4G tag without actually getting a 4G radio into their device?

They should not, but have you done a speed test lately. Say you have 10, and you pay for 10. On a good day, you are lucky to get 7, or 8, but they claim you have 10, and charge you for 10. They will pull the same thing with 4G.

Not only confusing, but unethical. Charging consumers extra fees for a service that is no faster than what they already had has a name. It's called misleading the consumers, aka FRAUD.

Sorry your wrong it's HSPA+ updated or added technology to 3G increasing speeds to the exact speeds LTE will offer. AT&T is only calling it 4G because TMobile USA started calling HSPA+ on their network and had to match it

I have to say without a doubt it is a dumb question to be asking. Why?
Is Apple really going to activate the HSPA+ feature on the iPhone version if they really are going to the chip in the first place? Odds are they will wait to the iPhone 6 and have it run on both LTE 4G and super fast HSPA+ 3G.
If they do turn on the chip they still won't let AT&T brand it 4G they may get away with disclaimer stating capable of HSPA+ speeds but no 4G anywhere. Why because no way Apple is going to have what appears to be two different classes of the same device cause remember the verizon iPhone ad was to show that regardless of the network the phone is the same.

Doubt it. Reasons like this is why Apple controls marketing. iPhone 4 has nothing to do with the branding of a network like 3g or 4g its just iPhone and it works well. Thats what apple wants you to care about not the network so much or the branding of G's

Telus and Bell in Canada have HSPA+ dual cell 42.2Mbps that's at least close to LTE speeds for 2011 for Canada. The only phone that is being branded as 4G is the Samsung Fascinate 21.1Mbps which is the first phone to be called 4G in Canada.

My guess is AT&T would like nothing better than to call the iPhone 5 4G and run a huge ad campaign proclaiming its superiority over the Verizon version. I also think this would happen over Steve Jobs dead body. There's no way Apple would allow that kind of crap on behalf of a carrier. They spent the last 4 years making AT&T their bit(h and that's not going to change.

HELLO HSPA+ is also capable of 100 MBPS and will reach those speeds long before LTE. So whats your problem. Who cares what they call it as long as it's fast .RIGHT

Whatever Rene. You must not know HSPA+ is also capable of 100 MBPS and will likely get to those speeds long before LTE. Then when LTE rolls out on at&t the iPhone will be capable of LTE and HSPA+ so when you aren't on one you will be on the other.

Make a HSPA+ dual cell Network and maybe we can start talking about AT&T calling them selves 4G. Thats why they want T-mobile. Even T-mobile was capable of building a faster network in terms of HSPA+ Technology.

I would accept HSPA+. I could always sell the iphone 5 for an iphone 6 if it gets LTE. Apple resale is better than any other phone. I wish I sold my 3gs for an iphone 4 but its too late now.
The other key note is that the lower frequencies are important. I will stick with ATT because they use 850 mhz vs. tmobile 1710 mhz vs. metropcs 1700 mhz vs. spring 2500 mhz. I read that the lower the frequency the better the wall penetration. Obviously Verizon is 700 mhz for lte but they don't have voice over lte yet.

LTE is the technology that changes everything. Voice and data will travel through one ip based channel(one frequency), basically where carriers will loose the ability keep minutes and data separate, and pretty much kills the carriers ability to market data plans so expensive vs voice plans, since consumers know that it costs them equally to provide both services. lol hope to see a unlimited data after 6 and weekend plan ;)

So is this 100mbps network just getting divided up between all the users on the network. Slicing me off a little .98 Mbps chunk.

I dont even bother thinking of these networks as 4g they can say it all they want but in reality its not 4g so I discount there statements if anything its 3.5g

In that case. I think EVDO Rev. A is like 2.5G.
My Android buddies on verizon cannot even get over 1Mbps here in NC.

Was it really necessary to post this? Sometimes I wonder about you guys at TIPB. You have now confused everyone with your gibberish. I think you post stuff just so you can have something to post. We all know AT&T is not yet true 4G, and further more there is no iPhone 5 nor will there ever be a device called that. Get it straight and don't get it twisted. AT&T can brand it 4G and it will be so, just at a diffent level.

Verizon's own documentation for their LTE network estimates 12Mbs down on average (even though our real world testing is showing 20+Mbs right now) and nobody has any issue with calling Verizon's LTE "4G". Here come T-Mo and AT&T calling their high-speed networks "4G", regardless of the backend tech, the speeds are comperable to Verizon's "real" 4G, are they not? So, why all the controversy?

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