4G - and FauxG - Phones Proliferating

Carl Weinschenk
Slide Show

Confusion and Skepticism May Impede 4G Adoption

With so many potential 4G customers expressing concerns about cost and performance providers may be in for some disappointment.

A lot of the attention being paid to 4G is being focused on the speed at which the carriers are rolling out services. The other side of the equation - and one that doesn't seem to gain as much attention - is the speed at which the device makers are releasing products.


The NPD Group has released research that addresses this issue. An important caveat that frames any discussion of 4G - either network deployments or handset releases - is that about a year ago the International Telecommunication Union took the controversial step of loosening the definition beyond Long Term Evolution and WiMax. The redefinition of 4G to include HSP+ doesn't mean, of course, that 4G isn't important. It just tweaks the overall meaning of 4G downward.


The fuzziness around what is and is not 4G has even gotten Congress into the act. PhoneScoop reports that three Democratic senators - Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken of Minnesota - have introduced legislation similar to a bill in the House. It is designed to clarify the issue:

As proposed, the bill seeks to force network operators to disclose guaranteed minimum data speeds, 4G network reliability and 4G coverage maps, pricing options, the 4G technology being used by that operator, and mitigating circumstances (foliage, terrain, population density) that could have an impact on the 4G network performance. The bill would also force the Federal Communications Commission to evaluate the speed and pricing of the 4G services offered by the top ten U.S network operators and provide a side-by-side comparison to consumers.

The research says that, overall, 22 percent of smartphones purchased during the third quarter were 4G-enabled. That's a full 19 percent more than the year-ago quarter. The leading carrier was Sprint; the study said that it was the only carrier that sold more 4G than non-4G smartphones.


HTC - through the ThunderBolt (used on Verizon Wireless), the EVO (Sprint), the Inspire 4G (AT&T) and others - led the vendors, with 62 percent of smartphone sales being 4G. Samsung (22 percent of smartphone sales), Motorola (11 percent) and LG (4 percent) followed.


Whatever the definition ends up being, it is certain that more 4G phones are coming quickly. Microsoft's Windows Phone - which seems to be poised to make a splash - will soon be available in LTE versions. All Things D posted an interview with Windows Phone division Andy Lees in which he said that the company was waiting for power consumption requirements to moderate before using the protocol. That moderation is happening, at least according to comments by AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega.


There is no doubt that 4G is ascendant in the cellular sector. Precise claims, however, should be taken with a grain of salt.

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