Deception and perception, two things AT&T has a hard time differentiating between. Today’s update to iOS 5.1 adds to [borderline] deceptive marketing/customer service practices only “true” because of the telecommunications industry’s lack of perception and definition. What does this mean to consumers? A bunch of mis-labeled, technically “false” statements specifically directed towards confusing end-users into thinking they have a service they really don’t.
The Background of the Mobile Communications
In order not to get into a bunch of technical mumbo-jumbo, I’m going to keep things simple as this article is targeting end-users, not IT/Telecommunications professionals. Since the creation of mobile phone and cellular communications, there have been 5 major revisions of the way mobile communications happen.
Mobile Radio Telephone (Known as 0G) – The very first incarnation of wireless communications, developed in the early 70’s, was essentially a glorified two-way radio with push-to-talk capabilities.
1G – Introduced in the 80’s and was an analog service (yes, the original “Brick phones” were analog).
2G – Introduced in the early 90’s and was the first fully digital, encrypted mobile communications network which began to support wireless data .
3G – Introduced in the early 2000’s and incorporated faster transmission speeds.
4G – Introduced in the end of the 2000’s and standardized on the LTE platform in 2010.
Now without getting into a massive technical discussion here, each generation of mobile communications has taken steps to extend communications, increase speed/reliability and offer additional features. Only recently has the consumer started to acknowledge what “3G” is, however they don’t understand what it means, what it does or doesn’t do. Every manufacturer of any RF-based device knows that once a technology/spectrum changes, so must the equipment that talks to it. Example: If you have a 2G phone and try to use it on a 4G network, it will not work – in fact, it wouldn’t even see the 4G network. Why? Each generation of mobile communications uses different frequencies (RF spectrum) and different types of technology to communicate (GSM vs CDMA, etc). In no way shape or form can a radio which is purposed for a specific frequency/mobile network be used on another frequency/network without replacing the radio inside of the device.
Deception and Perception
I am an avid hater of AT&T – this is my personal opinion and I [generally] keep to myself about it. Today’s iOS update flooded my voicemail and inbox with people saying “I have 4G on my existing iPhone 4S”… Naturally I didn’t believe them, but once I saw it first hand, It sure did say “AT&T 4G”. I have [literally] had this exact same conversation with dozens of people today, so I felt it warranted enough of my time to blog about it:
AT&T’s 4G service on the iPhone 4S is NOT 4G. It is a marketing ploy to make you THINK that AT&T is really the biggest and the best (i’ll get into this a little later). Your iPhone 4S ONLY has a 3G (GSM/CDMA) capable radio inside of it, NOT a 4G/LTE radio. It does *NOT* have two radios that work on both 3G/4G – It just doesn’t and never will.
What AT&T did, is deceptive. If your phone is on their standard GSM network, it will show “3G”, if you happen to be able to connect to their HSPA+ network (technically, still a 3G network which theoretically can reach the speeds equivalent to 4g) your phone will show “4G”. It is NOT LTE service, which by definition is “4G”. Yes, HSPA+ does offer some additional speeds higher than standard 3G service, however it does not qualify as a fourth generation mobile network as it still uses the same radio technology in the third generation mobile networks, it just uses it more efficiently which produces faster speeds.
The perception of a [clearly] 3G ONLY iPhone4S showing “4G” is deception and should be viewed as false advertising.
Why would AT&T intentionally deceive?
AT&T’s board of directors made an excellent decision to lock Apple into an exclusive contract with them during the original release of the iPhone. I can’t even begin to recall how many [hundreds, if not thousands of] TV commercials I watched featuring AT&T and how awesome they were because they were the only people who had the iPhone. They spent millions of dollars into PR and marketing campaigns which touted their network as the best, meanwhile end-users were complaining of slow speeds, problems with activations and customer service nightmares.
In AT&T’s defense, they did put a lot of money into upgrading their network to support the iPhone, but missed the big picture of planning and evolving into the next generation of mobile communications. Verizon and T-mobile put their time, effort and money into quietly building impressive 4th generation networks and kept non-stop forward momentum.
Once the exclusive agreement with AT&T ended, Apple began to sell the iPhone to any carrier who could afford it; Verizon immediately picked it up, and Sprint soon there after. Around the same time, Apple began to release details of a [planned] 4G iPhone, which would be LTE-based. Verizon, T-Mobile and hand-full of smaller carrier had ample lead-time to build a fourth generation network in a strategic, well thought-out manner, mean-while leaving AT&T to rapidly deploy 4G-LTE in the biggest [normally most profitable] markets first. AT&T’s need to be perceived as the “biggest and the best” is shadowed by mis-managed network operations and mediocre expansion, which they thought they could fix by buying T-Mobile, a company (who is aligned 3G/GSM wise for voice and 4G/LTE for enhanced voice/data) and instantly becoming owners of a nifty 4G/LTE network which would put AT&T close to where Verizon’s 4G/LTE builds are at.
Thankfully Department of Justice got this one right by blocking the sale/merger of AT&T/T-Mobile and keeping competition alive, thus leaving AT&T to scramble to find a way to roll out 4G to the masses to keep the perception that they still are the “biggest and best”. While the sad fact is that users do not know the technical distinction between 3G/4G, today’s update to the AT&T iPhone 4S gives customers the perception that they are on 4G, but technically are not.
The truth is that AT&T is aimless wandering through the years doing what ever is in the best interest of their share holders, yes this is the RIGHT thing to do but at what cost? They are technically “lying” to end users, claiming that their offering 4G service on a 3G-only device?
I invite you to share this link with EVERYONE you know, post it everywhere!