What does 4G mean to AT&T? Apparently it means both HSPA+ and LTE. At CES AT&T’s head of mobility has stated that they are going to use the term 4G for both their current HSPA+ network and their LTE network which will be launched mid-2011.
I realize that AT&T is the only major carrier without a “4G” offering right now and they feel they have to have something to offer, but this has the makings of a marketing nightmare that is sure to confuse customers come mid-year when AT&T starts rolling out their LTE network. Questions like “Why doesn’t the 4G phone I bought 3 months ago work with LTE?” and “Why do I have to pay more for data on this 4G phone than on that one?” are sure to come up quite a bit. Calling two different things the same thing does not sound like a good idea.
As part of the 4G press conference, they also announced that 20 “4G” devices will be launched in 2011, 12 of which will be Android phones. Three of those devices (the Samsung “Infuse 4G“, Motorola “Atrix 4G“, and HTC “Inspire 4G“) are being shown at CES. These, of course, support the HSPA+ flavor of 4G.
Maybe this is the iPhone 4G?
I did have one interesting thought about this. AT&T may want to call their HSPA+ network 4G so that can use the term with the next iPhone. If the next iPhone supports HSPA+, AT&T will market it as “the only iPhone with 4G” as it is highly doubtful that there will be an LTE iPhone in 2011. This can give them an advantage against the Verizon iPhone which will use a 3G CMDA radio. It may also help keep some people from jumping carriers. From a technology standpoint, supporting HSPA+ is simpler than LTE so Apple supporting HSPA+ in the next GSM iPhone is not that far fetched of an idea.