4G. The acronym is probably the most abused term in tech industry since "HD." And if you spend as much time reading up on mobile phone news as us (we hope you don't, that's what we're for!), you probably have come to the same conclusion: it's almost without meaning, constantly misrepresented, and defined on a completely subjective basis. We don't like any of this.

Neither do some of the members of congress, apparently. Today, a bill was introduced in the U.S. Senate that would require carriers to disclose the following information to consumers about their supposed "4G" services:

  • 4G Minimum data speed
  • 4G Network reliability
  • 4G Coverage area maps
  • 4G Pricing
  • 4G Network tech used
  • Conditions which may affect network speed

It's kind of a lot. And if you know anything about wireless data, some of it is totally impractical and stupid (how does one go about measuring "network reliability" in a way consumers can read or understand?), but it's hard to deny that the legislation has a noble goal at heart. This bill almost mirrors a similar piece of legislation introduce in the House of Representatives earlier this summer. If the bill gathers support and is passed in the Senate, the House and Senate bills will likely be reconciled into a single piece of legislation for final passage.

"Minimum data speed" may sound like an environmental variable nightmare at first glance, but really, all carriers need to do is determine the range of speeds end consumers get in the slowest 4G markets, crunch a few statistics, and figure out a number that'll represent the bottom-end for 95% of subscribers (this isn't what the bill says, it's just an idea I'm throwing out there). It's not simple addition, but it isn't rocket science, either.

Coverage maps are something we already have for 3G and voice, but carriers are, frankly, just too afraid to show the comparatively tiny area that their 4G services cover.

As for pricing, network technology, and conditions affecting speed, well, we don't think those are terribly burdensome pieces of information for carriers to hand over to consumers (some of which they already do).

Of course, the carriers have a big problem with this. Speaking on behalf of parties with large financial interests in the expanding market for 4G technology, CTIA released the following statement in response to the bill:

As we have said before, this bill proposes to add an additional layer of regulation to a new and exciting set of services, while ignoring the fact that wireless is an inherently complex and dynamic environment in which network speeds can vary depending on a wide variety of factors, such as weather, terrain and foliage. Congress should not impose new regulations. Instead, they should focus on the real issue, which is making sure that America's wireless carriers have sufficient spectrum to lead the world in the race to deploy 4G services.

Translation: "Bu-bu-bu... TREES! MOUNTAINS!" More eloquently, CTIA is saying that requiring 4G service providers to disclose actual concrete statistics would undermine the noble efforts of businesses who are trying to convince consumers that their 4G is just as, if not more, four-gee than the other guys' 4G, making consumers want more gees. Got it? Good.

I know I'm tired of carriers constantly advertising "4G" while having absolutely zero accountability for what that phrase actually means (technically, it originally meant over 100Mbps as defined by ITU-R). While it's obvious that what a given carrier's 4G can really do depends on the city, the phone (in the case of T-Mobile particularly), and network load, these reasons aren't any excuse against establishing standards of measurement for 4G services.

It seems so silly to me that carriers can hide behind the paper-thin argument that giving consumers more information about 4G would somehow hurt 4G deployment in America. I understand that 4G is in its early stages of deployment, but carriers advertise it in exactly the opposite way - implying that they are providing truly "next generation" performance with little in the way of actually backing up that statement.

What do you think, would a little more clarity in the 4G marketplace be something you want?

Political Blotter via Gizmodo

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • James

    Yes, since "4G" can refer to different things, I think it would help to have some clarification about what it means in a given context. As you noted, some of this should be pretty easy to provide and may already be available -- 4G technology used, pricing, and maybe coverage maps. Others seem reasonable to request, like minimum speed. (As you said, maybe you can't get a single, guaranteed minimum for 100% of customers, but a reasonable expected minimum that holds on average for ~95% of customers should suffice.) Unless all carriers are going to have or move to the same 4G technology/service, offering the same features and abilities, I think it is better for them to clarify just what you get with *their* 4G. Some real data and numbers to back up vague claims would be good.

  • Mgamerz

    Perhaps not the network reliability, (sucks for you if it passes Sprint!) but this would be a great bill. None of this crappy false advertising!

  • Mgamerz

    I have the Motorola Atrix 4G, and I'm pretty sure my city has 4G (at&t has no real 'coverage map' of what they claim is areas with 'advanced backhaul'). I get like .5 to 4 mbps down (if im lucky!) and 1.2 mbps up. This is pathetic!

  • Mike Brooks

    My 4G range in the Florida (I Live in the tampa market) is any where from 7-12 mbps download and 2-6 mbps upload on my Thunderbolt. I have had a coulpe of anomalies of hitting like 15 mbps down and 14 mbps upload, but extremly rare. I have to say that Verizons 4G is pretty solid and every where here in florida. I Never go into 3G and i drive all over the state for my job. I dont know how other market are though..........

    • JBO

      That's because Verizon's LTE was the first true next-gen technology to be labeled 4G.

    • http://musingsfrommike.info Mike2977

      Same experience in the Orlando area. One test (I use http://speedtest.net) actually reported 20mbps download while I was showing 4 bars of service on my Thunderbolt. In that same area a week earlier, testing a Metro PCS 4G phone I had less than one bar and only about 225kbps down, yet they promoted 4G LTE service!

  • JoshL

    I support the bill. Even though we know what each network's 4G is like, it's time for transparency for the average consumer.

  • ocdtrekkie

    It might be unnecessary in the future though.

    Verizon: On LTE
    AT&T: Moving to LTE
    Sprint: Planning on moving to LTE
    T-Mobile: Getting absorbed by AT&T

  • pegi

    it will mean more $$ on our phone bills, all that accountability

    • engineerGA

      Exactly. We don't need more government employees to track products and services we could easily evaluate on our own. Test drive the devices you like on each carrier, see how fast they are, and bail on the slower ones. Der!

      You can get out of any contract within so many days for each carrier, right? Why do we need more government employees and more money paid on our bills to see what services suck?

      Or better yet, just read these tech blogs - they review data speeds on the various carriers all the time. We all know "faux-G with enhanced backhaul" does not equal 4G LTE.

      • Buck Turgidson

        Wow! So it's just that easy for a user to get all that data by "test driving" the device for so many days? I wonder what all the fuss is about.

        Maybe because the average user isn't a Test Engineer and they probably don't really have much time available for contract negotiation and guessing and checking their way to a phone that works for them.

  • scuttlefield

    Yeah. Probably all of us responding here know what's going on, but there needs to be some distinction. I feel that the bill is to extensive. I'd be happy with listing the type of "4G" services and even the THEORETICAL download speed. Hence, T-mo can say that they have 4G (HSPA+ 42), Sprint has 4G (WiMAX 40) and Verizon can say 4G (LTE 50). ...or something like that.

  • http://electrojelly.wordpress.com Emmanuel

    This makes all the sense in the world. Conventional ISPs are already required to tell customers the exact speed. None of the speeds praised are 4G.

    According to the UN, 4G is anything WiMax or LTE-E between 100 Mbps - 1 Gbps. None of the carriers reach even 20% of that required in all areas.

    When people know the real download speeds, they will have something to compare to instead of 4G vs 4G vs 4G. Not all 4G systems are created equal and that needs to be acknowledged.

  • Zach

    Sounds great in theory. But when you realize that 34% of iPhone users believe they already have 4G, it makes you wonder just how useful it is to provide the general public with all this complicated information...


  • Andrew

    No regulation please. Keep government out of the phone business.

    And it'd be nice if, you know, your article were a little less biased next time.

    • Jim

      And which of the carriers do you work for?

  • Nathan

    With all the crap going on, THIS is what the government decides it needs to get involved in?

    Yes, because more laws always make it better.

  • TeeGee

    Truth is always biased toward one side... you can't display facts and then for the balanced doctrine's sake present the complete opposite.
    This article is well written and it is a consumer right to know if a company is indeed being honest. Afterall a company has more money and votes to give a false impression of their products to the consumers. Do people even know why are there regulations in the firstbplace? Christ,read a bit of your history... if there wouldn't be any government regulations your country would become 100% oligarchy. And we all know how trustworthy the big companies are...because their prime concern is not profit by any means ,right? Sure,and Disney is just like Mickey Mouse - nice and happy /sarcasm
    Wake up!

  • boe

    I'm not a fan of big government but I'd rather they focus on making the carterfone regulation passed in 1968 to apply to cellphones. Back in 67 if you wanted a new phone for your house you HAD to buy it from ma bell even though other phones would work.

    Sprint still has a locked network and although Verizon phones will work on Sprint you can't use them. Likewise Sprint locks their phones on release so you can't use them on Verizon if you switch carriers. While it is possible with a lot of rediculous effort to bypass their efforts it should be 100% as simple as putting other phones such as GSM phones on other carriers.

    Once all barriers are removed forcing the subsidized phone gimmick locking you in on a contract have been removed, we can start to enjoy the much much lower rates the Europeans have been enjoying unless of course the US carrier collusion is ignored.

  • Craig

    Goodness, keep the freakin government out of this. More laws, more laws. Ridiculous waste of time for our country's lawmakers to be involved in this.

    • Jim

      Millions of American consumers being duped into hooking up with so-call 4g service with no clear indication of what they are getting? I dunno, I'd say that's big enough to call for some government attention.

      I hear what you're saying, but "Yet another law on the books" vs. "Unchecked corporate greed, smoke and mirrors".... Can be a tough call sometimes, but in this case I think some imposed transparency is the better of the two options.

      • engineerGA

        I don't subscribe to the notion that the government is there to keep fools from being parted from their money. The research is out there already that shows theoretical and even real-world empirical speeds attained on each network.

        Government shouldn't force carriers to do research for fools, so they can be hit over the head with it when they go to purchase a new phone rather than researching anything themselves.

        Now, if there was a conspiracy to cover up and suppress data speeds, so the consumer didn't know real speeds, I would totally think the government should step in.

        • Buck Turgidson

          All this bill is trying to do is make them be more detailed in telling us what they are selling us. And although i do appreciate the research that has been done by various groups out there, it is far from complete. The carriers are the only groups that have the resources to collect that data for all the areas that they provide service.

          What exactly do you suppose the government would be able to do in the event of a "conspiracy" if "real speeds" have not been defined? I could be wrong but I don't think you can have a conspiracy if you don't have something to conspire against.

  • Buck Turgidson

    Right, nobody needs government. After all, we ARE paying them, why would we want them to do anything. While we're at it, let’s get rid of the FDA it's not like we really care what's in our food anyway. Fact is, without government, big business has no accountability for its actions. They are free to take a pile of dog poop slap a screen and some numbers on it and call it a phone (I realize that example is extreme, but add an Apple logo to it and I guarantee someone will buy it).

    As far as this bill goes, the only thing it could hurt for any of these companies is their ad campaign. The carriers already have all the information mentioned in the bill (from an engineering stand point you can't build a network without it). As technology gets more and more complex the consumer is at the mercy of the carrier's marketing departments. The government already backed down on what the international standard should be, the least they could do help us get some information about the pile of crap we are about to buy before we are locked into a contract.

  • Jesslyn

    Frankly, I'd rather have them legislate unlimited data, data maximum charges and throttling, phone unlocking issues after contract fulfillments and other issues that they are screwing us on on a monthly basis.

  • Immolate

    Caveat Emptor - let the buyer beware. Stop casting your relationship with the government as you = child, them = parent. Take responsibility for your own buying decisions and hold companies that make false claims accountable by abandoning their products and telling everyone you know about your experience. It frightens me how often people will demand the government do the least little thing for them, rather than acting like an empowered and powerful citizen of a free republic.

  • James

    I've heard that 4G networks are super-fast, and super reliable at the moment ... and will stay so while there are very few users :P

  • rogue3

    "Then make your choice." "I will, and I choose-- What in the world can that be?!" Works every time.