Not so fast: Fake 4G networks

By Tony Bradley, PCWorld

Reports are rolling in that the data upload speeds on the Motorola Atrix 4G are disappointing -- like slower than 3G smartphones on the AT&T network. AT&T has confirmed that the data speeds for the Atrix are not what they should be. So, what gives? Where's the blazing 4G speed?

The Atrix 4G appears to have impressive enough download speeds -- using the AT&T HSPA+ network. However it's debatable whether those download speeds are substantial enough to warrant a "4G" designation, and the upload speeds on the Atrix 4G, which rely on the HSUPA network, are not meeting expectations.

Tacking a 4G onto the name of a device doesn't make it perform any better.

There have been complaints filed with the Better Business Bureau, and accusations that AT&T is capping the data bandwidth for the Atrix 4G. There is also speculation that the actual cause of the slower than expected upload speeds is that the AT&T network is simply not ready to deliver HSUPA access. Regardless of the root cause, the fact is that AT&T's definition of "4G" leaves much to the imagination, and much to be desired.

Shakespeare once opined "What is in a name?" in the epic tale of Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare went on to explain that a rose by any other name is still a rose -- still has the same smell, the same thorns. Well, sometimes the reverse is true as well. Just because you call a skunk a rose doesn't make it not a skunk. And, just because you call a wireless service 4G doesn't make it not an incremental improvement on the existing 3G.

True 4G has very specific technical requirements. The "4G" services offered in the United States, though, were developed by the marketing department rather than the wireless engineers, and don't meet any of the specifications to qualify as real 4G. In that respect, you almost can't blame AT&T for jumping on the fake 4G bandwagon -- all of its rivals were already marketing their own brand of fake 4G and AT&T more or less had to get in on the 4G marketing blitz before it was too late.

I contacted AT&T to ask for some sort of official statement regarding the reports that the Atrix 4G is actually slower than 3G smartphones on the AT&T network. I asked about the speculation that AT&T simply doesn't have the infrastructure in place to support it, and suggested that if that is the case AT&T should disclose that up front to buyers of "4G" devices, or it should delay the launch of the alleged "4G" devices until the network is ready to deliver.

An AT&T spokesperson responded to my inquiry regarding the issues with the Atrix 4G. The statement I received is, "We have a number of HSUPA devices today and we will have more HSUPA-enabled devices in the future -- new devices and updates to existing models."

The response is "elusive" at best and raises the question: "If there are already HSUPA devices, and the HSUPA network is already functional, then what is the valid explanation for why the Atrix 4G has slower than expected data upload speeds?"

AT&T has not responded to that follow up question.

Reprinted with permission from Story copyright 2011 PC World Communications. All rights reserved.


Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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