iPhone 4S’ “4G” Symbol, Just a Display Issue

Although the new iPad will be Apple’s first 4G device, owners of iPhone 4S were surprised to see a 4G symbol displayed on their screen. It occurred after users updated their mobile software to iOS 5.1, the same software user for the company’s upcoming tablet.

However, it seems that the 4G symbol is just a display issue. Users who connect to AT&T’s HSPA+ network will see the said icon, even though it’s just a 3.5G rather than a real 4G network. But because the connection provides 14.4 Mbps data, the network calls it 4G.

4G Label: It’s Just a Marketing Ploy

Apple released its iOS 5.1 update to all its iOS device users last Tuesday. This caused shock to AT&T’s iPhone 4S users when they saw that their device is now connected on a 4G network. However, those who are on Verizon are still seeing the correct 3G icon after updating their software.

What AT&T users didn’t know is that the network has a different way of naming their network. The 4G icon only refers to the HSPA+ network, which is just a little bit faster than 3G, and labeled it as “4G.” This only means that AT&T and Verizon are operating on different mobile network standards. Moreover, the issue also clarifies that “4G” is not a technical specification, but a marketing term used to define the latest generation of mobile data networks.

The Battle between HSPA+ and 4G LTE

Last October 2011, a precursor with regards to this issue went public due to a leaked AT&T internal memo. It was eventually confirmed that the network is working hand-in-hand with the company to provide a 4G-like speed to all its iPhone users.

It was also during an Apple event held that month that Senior VP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller discussed about iPhone 4S’ dual-antenna system. He said that it can provide a better call quality and faster speed, which he claimed “up to 14.44 Mbps down.” However, he didn’t talk about the difference of HSPA+ and 4G LTE.

We’re going to get into a debate in the industry what’s 4G and what isn’t. We leave that for others to talk about.

What’s also vague, and this is where the real competition will be, is that the HSPA+ enabled iPhone 4S can stack up against genuine “4G” LTE hardware and network. As the more mobile devices embrace the 4G LTE technology, the demand for smarter and faster handsets will rise. And although it’s unclear what really caused the 4G label problem/confusion, it only shows that no iPhone 4S can connect to a 4G network.

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