It’s Still 3G & Not 4G for iPhone 4S Wireless Internet

Most consumers are blinded by the 4G hype surrounding the new iPhone 4S. Being labelled as “4S” doesn’t mean that the phone delivers 4G wireless Internet. Just like its predecessor, iPhone 4G runs on 3G networks, but at a faster speed.  But relative speed improvement is not what 4G technology is all about. Technically, iPhone 4S, just like iPhone 4, is not  4G-compatible.

iPhone 4S 3G speedtest

Current Wireless Broadband Speed Far From 4G Standard

There is no reason why consumers should expect 4G speed from iPhone 4s. The official technical specification from Apple showed that the phone only supports 3G networks: MTS/HSDPA/HSUPA (850, 900, 1900, 2100 MHz); GSM/EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz) and CDMA EV-DO Rev. A (800, 1900 MHz). None of these standards meet the technical requirements for 4G wireless connectivity.

According to Apple, the highest download speed ever recorded for iPhone 4S is 14.4 Mbps, which is attainable via HSDPA, a 3G technology. How fast should be the peak speed of a wireless Internet network to be branded 4G?  100 Mbps, almost 7 times higher than the theoretical speed of 4S.

4G Benchmarking

AT&T, despite lacking a real 4G-certified architecture, takes advantage of the engineering jargon by describing its 4S plan in various press releases as a 4G mobile Internet. None of AT&T’s networks meet the peak speed of a true 4G network, not even its LTE network since it is technically a 3G technology.

But the solid HSDPA architecture of AT&T, unseen in Sprint and Verizon, apparently won backing from Apple.  HTC Inspire 4G , Motorola Atrix 4G and  LG Thrill 4G are no different, so who cares if 4G is used as generic term for smart phone, said Phil Schiller, Apple’s Senior Vice President. With all major smart phone carriers abusing 4G branding, being a 4G now simply means being as fast as the latest 4G-branded phones.

ITU, the organization that defines 4G speed, is partly to be blamed. Last year, it allowed carriers to label their advanced 3G mobile broadband networks as 4G regardless of whether the technical definition of 4G is met or not.  It said that 4G “may also be applied to.. other evolved 3G technologies providing a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third generation systems now deployed.”  LTE-Advanced (not supported by iPhone)  met the technical requirements of 4G, but earlier LTE releases, like the current network deployed by AT&T, do not.

Actual vs Peak Download Speed

Oftentimes, the best indicator of speed is not the cunning ad but actual speed test. The average speed is often just a fraction of the maximum speed advertised and this may increase or decrease across different networks due to bandwidth capacity and subscriber density.  Regular speed tests conducted by showed that the AT&T 4S is the fastest among the three 4S phones in the US, followed by Verizon and Sprint iPhones. AT&T has an average speed of 2.4 Gbps, Verizon had 1.9 Gbps while Sprint got 1.2 Gbps. Verizon could have surpassed AT&T with its well-established LTE networks, but Apple is yet to support LTE-compatible hardware, probably next year.

Real 4G Phones Coming Soon

We can’t blame speed-conscious customers for passing the LTE-incompatible  iPhone 4S. LTE, dubbed as “near 4G”, is at least twice faster than other 3G technologies. A speed test conducted by showed that HTC ThunderBolt HTC  can support a peak download rate of 9.17 Mbps via LTE.

Drawing the line between 3G and 4G technologies have never been a technical issue. It’s the culture of deception in the advertising industry that set wrong expectations on the speed and reliability of mobile Internet.  But as AT&T, Sprint and Verizon prepare their LTE-Advanced network, a real 4G technology, we can hope that 4G would become less a hyperbole in marketing jargon in the near future.

Article By Bradley Zarich who blogs about satellite Internet, gadgets, VSAT and 4G technology.

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