Is LTE really 4G? Verizon and AT&T Engage in War of Words over Next Gen Wireless Network

by Matt Klassen on November 23, 2010

In a tightly contested mobile telecommunications market, where 90% of America’s population already has a cellphone contract, there are quickly becoming fewer and fewer places for mobile network providers like Verizon and AT&T to find new subscribers. This means that network providers are forced to compete with each other over existing subscribers, working their marketing teams overtime in an attempt to lure customers back and forth between companies, with the latest bait used to entice customers to switch companies being the next generation 4G networks.

As the official unveiling of Verizon and AT&T’s respective Long Term Evolution (LTE) draws ever closer, the mud slinging between these two companies has reached a fevered pitch, with Verizon recently releasing a marketing campaign that boasts its LTE network as both the “most advanced” and “the fastest” 4G network in the country.

But with so much marketing propaganda it’s hard to know who’s telling the truth. Is Verizon’s 4G LTE network really the country’s fastest? Its certainly a tough question to answer, made tougher by the fact that Verizon and AT&T’s respective LTE networks aren’t really 4G at all.

If there has been one constant in the wireless network market over the past several years, its been the recurring trash talk between America’s top four providers—Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile. The rivalry has intensified significantly recently, however, as all four companies have rolled or are set to roll out their next generation wireless networks, most of which have been referred to as “4G” at one time or another.

The only problem with designating these next generation networks as “4G” is that there is actually a worldwide governing body, the International Telecommunication Union, that officially designates network titles like 1G, 2G, 3G, 4G, etc… and this body has yet to recognize any of these American LTE network as qualifying for 4G status.

As CNET’s Marguerite Reardon writes, “To be legitimately considered a 4G technology by the ITU, the network technology is required by the agency to be IP-based and use orthogonal frequency-division multiplexing (OFDM). The other main requirement is that the technology needs to support peak download speeds of 100Mbps. The current flavors of LTE and WiMax are not that fast. And neither is the technology T-Mobile is using, which is called HSPA+.”

So what does this mean? For starters, it speaks to the willingness of both Verizon and AT&T to mislead the public into thinking they’re getting access to an advanced 4G network. Sure these next generation wireless networks will be faster than the current 3G options, but they still fall considerably short of the universal standards for 4G.

Further, with both AT&T and Verizon yet to officially roll-out their LTE networks across the country, its difficult to reliably say who will have the faster network, a fact that hasn’t stopped either from boasting that their largely untested networks are by far the fasted in the country.

So how do we decide which network is best for us? The good news for most of us is that we’ll have lots of time to wait and see, as the fact remains that upon its unveiling Verizon’s LTE network will have very limited coverage and will not be supported by any of Verizon’s mobile handsets until sometime in 2011.

In the end, amidst all the trash talking and misinformation one thing is clear, network providers are desperate for your money and they’ll do almost anything to get it.

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