Verhasselt: 4G networks misleading, who is to blame?

Heath Verhasselt

Many of you have seen the TV commercials for our nation’s cell phone carriers, all advertising their new 4G networks. There’s a Verizon one with a guy almost getting struck by lighting due to how fast Verizon’s 4G network was.

Although entertaining, what stood out to me was the claim they made: You can stream Netflix in HD over their 4G wireless network.

I have a smartphone, it has 3G and Wifi, and I’ve always taken 3G for what it was, and never really had a reason to ask for more. But HD Netflix over a cell phone network? This definitely deserved a second look.

And what I found was a labyrinth of explanations of how each 4G network functions on each carrier, the variations of speed, the plans, as well as what areas of the country were covered and which were not. And what was even more saddening was consumer awareness of what 4G was and wasn’t.

I talked with my roommate about possibly writing this article and what followed was a 20-minute conversation about what 4G was and wasn’t. Turns out we were both confused.

So what is 4G? Is that the speed? Is it some new phone? Is it a new technology, or is it just the next type of wireless? And the answer is actually the latter two, kind of.

The International Telecommunication Union said “4G stands for the fourth generation of cellular wireless standards. It is a successor to 3G and 2G families of standards. Speed requirements for 4G service set the peak download speed at 100 Mbit/s for high mobility communication — such as from trains and cars — and 1 Gbit/s for low mobility communication — such as pedestrians and stationary users.”

That makes perfect sense to me, 4G is a wireless standard, and of that standard there are several different types of wireless that qualify. There are many, you may have heard of Wimax, but the most notable is LTE — Verizon’s Long Term Evolution. LTE is a very fast wireless standard, but is it fast enough? 4G offers 1Gbit/s peak download. Guess how fast the Verizon 4G LTE can go: about 100Mbit/s.

These of course might be random numbers to you — they are even pretty boring to me, seriously, load up the Wikipedia article on 4G and you’ll want to leave before the page loads — but what these numbers mean is that the cell phone ads are lying to you. They are offering you what is actually, and somewhat comically I might add, 3.9G speed on your phone that claims it’s picking up 4G.

How can they get away with this? Is this even a problem? They can get away with it because they are selling you what they say they are. LTE is Verizon’s fourth-generation network, and are marketing it as such, regardless of whether or not it falls within ITU guidelines.

So, technicalities aside, is this actually a problem? No not really. But is this just another attempt by a large company to confuse consumers about technology? More than likely.

People have a hard enough time keeping up with how fast things are changing, now they need to read wireless internet standards before buying their cell phones?

Technology is complicated, and it really doesn’t need to be that way. Hopefully someday electronics retailers will find it in their hearts to tell people the truth about what they need and what they don’t. But then again, that wouldn’t be as profitable as confusion has been for the last 15 years.