After Texas resident Keith Geissler noticed his new Motorola Atrix wasn’t offering the fast “4G” download and upload speeds that AT&T promised, he filed a complaint to the Better Business Bureau, asking the wireless company to “uncap” his data connection.
AT&T’s response was surprising. While the company assured Geissler it “has not capped the upload speeds on the Atrix,” it did admit that the phone’s HSUPA capability — a key feature in increasing upload speeds on the Atrix as well as the new HTC Inspire 4G smartphone — will not be enabled until a later date.
That means all upload speeds on the Atrix and the Inspire will max out at around 300 Kbps, far below that of the 5.5+ Mbps speeds that HSUPA is capable of uploading. (Geissler wasn’t happy to hear any of this, and posted the exchange to an online message board focused on smartphones.)
In other words, it’s not a hardware issue. It’s AT&T itself, which isn’t ready to flip the switch to turn on “4G” networks, even though it’s already selling 4G phones. Is anyone surprised?
“The concept of 4G is a joke now,” Gartner Research VP Phil Redman told Wired.com. “At the highest level, it’s supposed to be a technology standard, but it’s nothing but marketing now. If and when 4G-standardized technology is actually decided upon and released, we’ve been inundated with this jargon for so long we may not even recognize it.”
The term “4G speed” seems open to interpretation. Since the International Telecommunications Union — the global authority on telecommunications- and broadband-industry standardization – revised its ruling on what defines 4G network speeds in December 2010, carriers have jumped on the opportunity to market many new smartphones as 4G-enabled. Their definitions have been liberal, to say the least.
For AT&T, part of “4G” compatibility involves having HSUPA speeds. AT&T has been mostly evasive as to why HSUPA has been disabled in the Atrix and HTC Inspire 4G smartphones. The company claims it is performing “the testing and preparations necessary” for users to enjoy the HSUPA capabilities when the function is turned on by phone update.
To add insult to injury to Android users expecting 4G speeds, many iOS counterpart devices using AT&T’s 3G network are indeed HSUPA-enabled.
“Not to twist the dagger that’s already in our backs on this one,” said one forum user at XDA Developers, “as many know, the iPad 2 came out today and guess what … HSUPA enabled.”
Also HSUPA ready: the iPhone 4, a device using AT&T’s 3G network.
So when can we actually expect 4G upload speeds from these “4G” phones? AT&T gave Wired.com a rough street date of next month.
“We will be turning HSUPA upload speeds on via a software update to the Motorola ATRIX 4G and HTC Inspire 4G planned for April,” a spokesman said. He also added that “the Samsung Infuse 4G will launch with HSUPA.”
AT&T isn’t the first to fudge facts on its data practices. In the weeks before the iPhone’s release on the Verizon network in February, the carrier published a document that said the top 5 percent of data users on the network may have their data speeds reduced “to ensure high-quality network performance for other users at locations and times of peak demand.”
As Wired.com’s Brian X. Chen reported, “One of Verizon’s selling points for its version of the iPhone is that it would come with an unlimited data plan — a marked contrast to AT&T, which eliminated its unlimited data plans last year.” But when a company’s shifty data-throttling practices are “disclosed” in unpublicized PDF files, Chen’s assertion that “you just can’t trust wireless carriers” proves accurate.
AT&T obviously hasn’t claimed the lack of HSUPA-enabling in the two phones to be a data-throttling technique. But until we hear reasons beyond “network testing and preparation,” we won’t be so quick to believe them.
- By Mike Isaac - Wired