LAS VEGAS — Things are about to get even more confusing for smart phone shoppers. This year will be the year that 4G networks — the industry term for a next-generation network that provides broadband speeds or faster over a wireless connection — start landing in consumers' pockets in earnest.
Unfortunately, cell-phone companies have blurred the lines when it comes to 4G. They all now are using the 4G moniker, but the networks are very different.
"All 4G is not created equal," Lowell McAdam, Verizon president and chief operating officer, said Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The result: Users, who genuinely want a faster smartphone experience, are left awash in acronyms as they weigh a phone upgrade or carrier switch.
"The industry uses a lot of technology-based definitions that don't mean much to consumers," said Don Kellogg, senior manager of telecommunications research and insights for Nielsen, who recently studied consumer confusion over the term 4G. "People want to know how is this going to benefit them."
--T-Mobile uses a wireless standard called HSPA+, which the company is advertising as 4G.
--Verizon Wireless is using a technology called Long-Term Evolution, widely seen as the faster standard, to deliver its 4G network.
— T-Mobile said Thursday that it would be able to double the speed of its HSPA+ network this year through software enhancements.
— AT&T confuses things even more, by deciding to start this year with an HSPA+ roll-out before eventually upgrading to an LTE standard similar to Verizon's by year end. They'll call the network 4G the whole way through.
--Sprint uses another standard yet for its 4G network called WiMax.
To complicate things even further, if you were to follow the initial 4G standard set by the International Telecommunication Union, none of these networks would be worthy of the 4G moniker.
Faced with an entire slate of wireless carriers advertising these LTE and HSPA networks as 4G, the ITU eventually caved.
Verizon, which hadn't released a smartphone capable of accessing the carrier's 4G LTE network, revealed four smartphones Thursday: the HTC ThunderBolt, the LG Revolution, the Droid Bionic 4G and the Samsung 4G LTE Smartphone. All the phones have 4.3-inch touchscreens. The carrier also revealed a 4G-compatible version of the popular Samsung Galaxy Tab tablet.
All the products will be available in the first half of the year, with some coming as early as March, said Marni Walden, chief marketing officer at Verizon.
AT&T said it would release 20 4G devices in 2011, the first batch working with HSPA+ and the second batch working with LTE. If you buy one of those first HPSA+-based 4G phones, you'll be unable to access the faster LTE speeds when that launches later this year.
A study from Nielsen released Thursday to coincide with all the carrier 4G announcements showed that many consumers don't understand what the next-generation network name means.
While 4 in 5 consumers are aware of the term 4G, only 2 of those 4 understand what it means, the study showed.
Original Article: By Mark W. Smith, The Detroit Free Press