AT&T’s Less-Than-Transparent 4G Coverage Map


What are you doing Ma Bell? AT&T has produced a coverage map indicating where it has 4G coverage, with cities such as Dallas, San Francisco, Boston and Chicago showing faster “4G” wireless speeds. Paul Kapustka explains over at Sidecut Reports that the carrier has been pretty coy about its coming 4G launch using the HSPA+ technology, and I think AT&T is still being coy.

My issue is that while AT&T should be applauded for offering customers a detailed coverage map showing where they can and cannot expect service, the map could also be used to confuse customers about what kind of 4G services are on offer. Pardon me, while I get kind of acronym heavy.

AT&T is calling HSPA+ 4G, but that standard only delivers maximum speeds of up to 14 Mbps based on how AT&T is deploying it. Those are also theoretical speeds, so in the real world, users might see much lower speeds. However, AT&T is also planning to start deploying LTE later this year, which is also 4G wireless broadband, and delivers speeds in the real world that range from 5-12 Mbps according to Verizon. (Verizon has deployed an LTE network that covers 100 million people). On the right device, LTE could be much faster than HSPA+, but subscribers looking at that map may not know what type of service they have. AT&T said via a spokesman that the company will talk about differentiating LTE when it gets closer to launch.

For example, in a speed test this morning performed by Om in San Francisco (which shows 4G coverage) he received 2.10 Mbps down and 1.06 Mbps up. A second test in another area of the city saw much higher download speeds of 4 Mbps, but lower upload speeds of 370 kbps. Both these tests were performed on an iPhone, which has a radio that only can handle 7.2 Mbps speeds, which means that they couldn’t show off the faster HSPA+ speeds AT&T is offering.

Sure, most people won’t care if they are on HSPA+ or LTE networks unless there is a large speed differential, but there could be such a large speed differential. Plus, the coverage map may also determine what kind of device a customer buys as LTE handsets and dongles hit AT&T’s network. So perhaps as it rolls out LTE, maybe AT&T will be the first to market 4G-plus.

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