This past Sunday, AT&T started tweakings its 4G network campaign to boast an interesting new detail: the carrier decided it now has bragging rights to be called the nation’s largest 4G network. A spokeswoman officially said it “covers more customers than any competitor’s 4G network and delivers great speeds up to four times faster than 3G.”
Hm, that’s strange, considering virtually everywhere you see a Verizon Wireless or T-Mobile logo you’ll notice they too claim to have the largest 4G networks. A spokeswoman for AT&T says competing 4G networks cover approximately 200 million people across the US, but AT&T is apparently “significantly ahead of them based on internal and third-party data.”
The controversial part of these statements is what technologies are defined as “4G.” The media generally refers to LTE as true 4G, but as of December 2010, the International Telecommunications Union clarified the definition of 4G as including LTE, WiMAX, and HSPA+ technologies.
Taking this into account, AT&T’s combined LTE, HSPA+, and “enhanced backhaul” supports its argument as the largest 4G network. It also means most customers outside LTE coverage areas won’t fall back to the slower 3G, but instead would switch to HSPA+ speeds, the adequate-enough-to-be-considered-4G technology.
If we take away the other technologies and narrow it down to just LTE, AT&T actually doesn’t have much to brag about. Its LTE network covers 74 million people in 28 markets, while Verizon’s LTE blankets 200 million people in 196 markets. T-Mobile and Sprint aren’t on board with LTE, but they both have their own perfectly credible 4G networks. T-Mobile’s HSPA+ serves over 200 million people in 217 markets and Sprint’s WiMAX covers 130 million people.
Editor’s note: I think this kind of sums it up.