The US '4G' World Is a Mess

Verizon announced that it was finally launching its 4G LTE network on Sunday Dec. 5 "in 38 major metropolitan areas, covering more than 110 million Americans." Verizon's statement said:

Verizon Wireless’ 4G LTE network is the fastest, most advanced 4G mobile network in America, providing speeds up to 10 times faster than its 3G network. In addition, the company is turning on its 4G LTE network at more than 60 commercial airports – most within the 38 initial launch areas, and some outside those areas for added convenience for road warriors. In subsequent years, an equally aggressive growth plan will result in full nationwide coverage in 2013. The company’s 4G LTE network ultimately will connect a full range of electronics devices and machines to each other.

There will be smartphones at launch; this will be mostly about laptops. Here's the pricing:

$50 monthly access for 5 GB monthly allowance or $80 monthly access for 10 GB monthly allowance, both with $10/GB overage. For laptop connectivity, two 4G LTE USB modems will be initially available: the LG VL600 is available at launch and the Pantech UML290 will be available soon, each $99.99 after $50 rebate with a new two-year agreement. Both USB modems provide backward-compatibility with Verizon Wireless’ 3G network. If laptop users travel outside of a 4G LTE coverage area, they will automatically stay connected on the company’s 3G network.

There are now three carriers in the market claiming 4G: Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon. The coverages are all different and pricing is different. Sprint and T-Mobile offer 4G smartphones. The problem is that none of the 4G networks truly qualifies as 4G according to international standards. This caused me recently to ask Will False 4G Claims Invite Government Intervention?

Carriers are hoping 4G gets them into tiered pricing and grows revenues overall. Consumers, by contrast, want simplified pricing and lower costs. Fundamentally consumers don't understand how much data and usage (in practical terms) is accommodated by 5GB or 10GB. They understand "faster" but not what "4G" means -- because it means very little actually. 

The speeds being touted and, more importantly, actually delivered under the rubric "4G" may be incrementally better than 3G but they're not true 4G and probably (for most consumers) don't justify the higher costs involved. Indeed, many consumers may just stay away because of confusion or lack of obvious benefits. Over time that raises an interesting issue: Will carriers force consumers onto 4G networks at higher prices? 

As the carriers make competing and often misleading claims in ads about 4G expect: a) lawsuits and/or b) government intervention to regulate the use of the term "4G," which is barely more than a marketing slogan today.