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Monday, 10 October 2011 09:03

iCon: AT&T and Apple tout iPhone 4S as a 4G device


4G is a much misused terminology in the world of cellular communications, but US telco AT&T and Apple are bolding taking the definition of 4G where it has never been taken before.

The latest iPhone, the 4S, support HSPA at 14.4Mbps downstream. That's a big improvement on the iPhone 4, which could manage only 7.2Mbps. However it is way short of the 42Mbps of HSPA+, which Telstra's network and some dongles support (I'm not sure which handsets, if any do). And it certainly is not LTE, which Telstra, in common with everybody is touting as the first 4G offering.

This has not stopped AT&T and Apple in the US collaborating to con iPhone 4S users on AT&T's network. US website thisismytext.com reports, says AT&T has confirmed that 4S's on AT&T's network will show '4G' when transferring data over HSPA. Apparently this will be achieved by means of a tweak to iOS that will be unique to AT&T.

To put this in perspective: the official statement from the ITU has always been that the first 4G technologies will be LTE-Advanced and WiMAX 802.16m, but the term has long been widely use for LTE and the current WiMAX technology, 802.16e.

Even the ITU seemed to be admitting defeat. In December 2010 it issued a statement saying: "As the most advanced technologies currently defined for global wireless mobile broadband communications, IMT-Advanced is considered as '4G', although it is recognised that this term, while undefined, may also be applied to the forerunners of these technologies, LTE and WiMax, and to other evolved 3G technologies providing a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third generation systems now deployed."

This was seized on by 4G misusers as vindication of their nomenclature. However earlier this year ITU secretary general, Hamadoun Touré, reiterated that this was not the case. He told Total Telecom "No one can prevent them from calling [the technologies currently on offer] '4G'. But they know deep down inside whether or not they are meeting the ITU standard."

And no matter what it says on the screen, deep down inside the iPhone 4S is an HSPA device, which means that, in the real world, its downstream data speed is unlikely to exceed 10Mbps.

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