T-Mobile HSPA+ Now Marketed as ‘America’s Largest 4G Network’ – Has the Definition of 4G Changed?

A few days ago we saw T-Mobile ads that showed its intent to market its HSPA+ network as the largest 4G network in America. Tonight, the carrier is beginning its aggressive campaign to let America know that its network is just as fast – if not faster than – Sprint’s WiMax network. T-Mobile really seems to be hitting its competitors pretty hard stating that it doesn’t charge any extra premiums for its faster data speeds, and its coverage isn’t limited to little pockets. HSPA+ will blanket 200 million Americans before the end of the year.

For those keeping up with the industry, the ITU just decided last week that only WiMax 2 and LTE Advanced will meet its standards for true 4G technology. We’ve already mentioned in the past that until that decision was made, any network labeled as “4G” in North America will be nothing more than marketing speak.

It was shocking to learn through recent document leaks that T-Mobile was going to call its HSPA+ network, which delivers theoretical speeds of up to 21Mbps down and real-world speeds of 3-6Mbps on average, a 4G network. The largest in America, in fact. After all, it is only a boosted version of WCDMA whereas WiMax and LTE were using OFDM, which Sprint uses to argue why it calls its WiMax network “4G.”

IntoMobile asked T-Mobile what justification it uses to call HSPA+ a 4G network.

“The market has determined what 4G is, and customers aren’t concerned with what the ITU decides or the technology behind it. Customers have come to expect faster speeds and a better overall experience, ” Reid Walker, VP of Corporate Communications for T-Mobile, said.

Indeed, now that Sprint has gone ahead and called its WiMax network 4G, and Verizon is set to do the same with its upcoming LTE launch, the market does have different expectations. Faster speeds and shorter latency times are what users have come to expect from what carriers have been calling 4G technology.

We also asked T-Mobile about how it will handle data spikes and whether it is considering tiered pricing. With the launch of additional HSPA+ markets and new devices taking advantage of that network, how will the carrier handle the load?

“We don’t charge a premium for the faster data, unlike our competitors. It’s still the same data plan, and if users hit 5GB of data, speed will slow down until their cycle resets it at the end of the month,” Walker said.

If the market has decided what 4G really is, we could be hitting some large gray areas soon. What will we call the current technologies once we’re seeing mobile broadband networks delivering 50-100Mbps download speeds?

T-Mobile told us that LTE is “definitely in line” for the future, but couldn’t offer any further details regarding a time frame for launch. However, we were told that the carrier is learning new things about its current technology and will be able to boost speeds up to 42Mbps and 84Mbps in the future. I wouldn’t hold my breath for that, though, as it could be a long while.

How do you feel about T-Mobile calling its HSPA+ network “America’s largest 4G network”? Is it fair given the official standards set by the ITU? Or is it fair game since Sprint is calling its WiMax network “4G,” too? Have we reached the point where it doesn’t matter what carriers call their networks as long as they’re delivering the experience we expect from next generation mobile broadband technologies?

  • Bruce

    It’s easier to market superstition than to market science. The smart thing for T-Mo to do is follow the lead of toothpaste and gasoline companies. Make up and trademark your own word for the same ingredient that everybody else uses. Would you rather have a phone with 4G or one with “XG, exclusively from T-Mobile.”

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