Psst, Your 4G? It’s Not Really 4G

by Jordan Richardson on May 6, 2011

According to CBC News, your 4G smart phone isn’t really nabbing those amazingly fast your network says it is. To make things more interesting, tests from CBC News reveal that the actual speeds of the smart phones aren’t even coming close to the advertised speeds.

Uh oh.

Obviously Canada’s mobile carriers have made an awful lot of dough out of 4G networks and claiming to have the “fastest” or “best” or “hottest” networks around. Heck, the Big Three have fought each other for network supremacy through ambitious advertisements for a while now. But does it actually mean anything?

The roots of this sordid tale lie in a story that passed without much notice among the general population. Our intrepid and stylish Guarav Kheterpal discussed the ITU’s decision to play fast and loose with the semantics of 4G, but many people don’t know that what would have been called a 3G network can now be called a 4G network.

The carriers are advertising that their networks can reach speeds up to 42 Mbps. Wow. The only problem is that no carrier sells phones that can hit those speeds. The fancy-pants iPhone 4, the fourth generation wunderkind from Apple, has a theoretical maximum speed of 7.2 Mbps. The new and apparently exciting HTC Thunderbolt, arriving on Verizon shortly, will be able to hit 12.6 Mbps. As impressive as those speeds may well be, they aren’t even close to the 42 Mbps Telus and Bell say their networks have.

Technically the carriers aren’t lying, but they are playing games with the facts – as usual.

CBC News did some tests pertaining to network speeds across Canada and came up with results that are hardly surprising given the above conversation. The highest speeds, according to the CBC, came out of Winnipeg on the Telus network. CBC testers used an iPhone 4 in all tests and discovered that Winnipeg offered a top download speed of 6.14 Mbps. That’s off of the maximum speeds offered by the iPhone 4, of course, and a long way off the speeds advertised by Telus.

Everyone knows that a host of factors can impact the speed of a smart phone, with the weather and the amount of Internet traffic factoring in. But when the phones themselves, even under the very best of conditions, can’t hit the mark advertised by Telus, Bell and Rogers, what’s to be done?

Thanks to the redefining of “4G,” not much can be done about it. The fact is that your 4G phone just isn’t 4G. Surprised? Didn’t think so.

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