[Guest Post] What’s in a G? Why You Might Not Be on 4G (or even 3G)


It was recently announced by ITU – an authority in cellular technology – that most high speed data networks today aren’t really considered 4G as most advertisers would have you believe. In the US alone, ITU’s IMT-Advanced specification – what grants a network the right to be called 4G, 3G, or whatever “G” – does not accept any of the current or forthcoming networks from the 4 big carriers as 4G. Going even further than that, Sprint’s and Verizon’s networks aren’t technically considered 3G networks either. Why would that be, you say?


We’ve reached out to someone knowledgeable on the subject – technology aficionado, guru, and madman David C Bauman – to get more of an idea on why. Read on for his insightful commentary.

What’s in a G? In today’s modern world, many people’s lifestyles depend on 3 of them, but few understand what makes one up. Around 2001, the first true 3G standard surfaced: UMTS, by the 3GPP. This was followed quickly by CDMA2000, in 2002, by the 3GPP2, and both are considered part of the International Mobile Telecommunications-2000 (IMT-2000) standards for mobile phones and data services, under the International Telecommunication Union chartered by the United Nations. 3G is a world-wide standard, similar to how a kilogram is the same in England as it is in Japan. Standards are important, and guarantee specific services from products claiming to be compatible with them.

Taylor over at androidandme.com recently blew the whistle on T-Mobile’s Project Emerald, which will bring up the marketing hype behind their nation-wide HSPA+ rollout behind the 4G moniker. Why are they making this obviously false claim? HSPA+ is still a 3G technology, after all. Sometimes, the only way to fight misinformation is with misinformation.

T-Mobile is obviously responding in kind to Sprint and Verizon, who are touting their new 4G networks. Sprint has turned up its WiMAX solution to cover over 40 million users already, while Verizon has not been shy about announcing their plans to blanket the nation with their LTE solution starting at the end of 2010. T-Mobile’s planned HSPA+ network is capable of matching or exceeding the speeds of both Sprint’s planned WiMAX network and Verizon’s planned LTE network. How can 3G and 4G be equal, though? Somebody’s obviously playing dirty pool. T-Mobile’s network isn’t 4G as defined by ITU-R’s IMT-Advanced specification, which requires 1 Gbps of throughput between stationary objects, and 100 Mbps to objects in motion, with tower to tower handoffs. Technically, HSPA+ isn’t capable of even half those speeds, and certainly doesn’t meet the rest of the IMT Advanced specification, which is why HSPA+ isn’t a 4G technology. Sprint’s WiMAX deployment, however, isn’t a 4G technology either, nor is Verizon’s LTE. They’re 3G Transitional, or, 3.9G. HSPA+ is a 3.75G – both are above the straight 3G specification, but all of them fall way short of the 4G standard.

Looking even deeper into the IMT-2000 specification, it’s worth noting that while CDMA2000 is a 3G technology, for a network to be classified as 3G-capable, it must support simultaneous voice and data service usage, something that neither Sprint nor Verizon can claim across their CDMA deployment. Even though they’re touting a 4G network, they don’t even have a 3G one that spans 100 feet, let alone coast to coast. Sprint’s WiMAX solution meets all the criteria for a 3G network, allowing simultaneous voice and data, and Verizon is in the testing stages of a new CDMA standard called SVDO, which will allow for simultaneous voice + data over their existing network (which is currently EVDO Rev A), but until that goes live in 2011, they may be the largest national carrier but they’re a G short of everybody else, anywhere.

With every provider lying about standards, network types, and coverage offered, the entire American mobile industry seems to be misrepresenting something or other, and the consumers are left out in the cold. Marketing has confused many, and any semblance of standards has been pushed aside. Maybe I’m splitting hairs, here, but it feels like I’m paying for a kilogram, being told I’m getting a kilogram, and when I get home, I’m a pound short.

David has been an avid android enthusiast for two years, and a journalist for 13, reporting on everything from technology to gaming, and currently holds degrees in sarcasm and communications. He also just so happens to be a Computer and Network Security and Communications Technician and one hardcore hacker. You can follow David on Twitter by clicking here and check out his website by clicking here.

If you would like to submit a guest post or an idea for a story to be featured on Phandroid.com, be sure to head to our contact form and let us know! We’ll entertain any serious submission on engaging Android and cellular related stories.

Quentyn Kennemer
The "Google Phone" sounded too awesome to pass up, so I bought a G1. The rest is history. And yes, I know my name isn't Wilson.

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  1. “Even though their touting a 4G network” (4th paragraph, 4th line)—this ruined my belief in this article.

    “their” does not equal “there” does not equal “they’re”–really? nit-picky. I know.

    I disavow any knowledge of this article now.

  2. Oh, be reasonable.

  3. I don’t even see what Joshua is complaining about?!?

  4. I tipped this earlier this morning….

  5. I want my 3Gg I am paying for. Ok so in truth I am paying for data… and not any of the Gs. I can still demand. Where’s my 3G?

  6. Thanks David, interesting read.

  7. Boom! roasted…

  8. Joshua is an idiot.

  9. I love this type of info. The term #G has gotten blurred too much as it is.

  10. lol im kinda confused now

  11. Finally. So can we please start using the real terms?


    No *G bullshit.

  12. where is the fcc when you need them, hehehehe.

  13. FCC=FAIL!

  14. joshua who cares what you think

    you fail and no1 cares about your crap

    the article makes very valid points

  15. Great article…too bad Josh has never mis-spelled a word, so he can’t see the value of the overall content…too bad for him.

    T-mobile will be bringing up the rear in the 4G realm, but the good thing is that their current 3.75G will suffice for a couple of years, and by the time they go to full 4G, they will be using the latest technology and probably have the best 4G network for years to come…just as they have the best 3G network today (since they came late to the 3G game)

  16. I have been saying this for so long.

  17. This is the USA, we use imperial G’s, not metric G’s.

    Is it just me or are international units too large, always requiring lots of decimals to use in practice…hence the non-friendly 3.75G and 3.9G. My toilet uses EXACTLY one gallon…I bet you’ll need at least 2 decimals to describe that in liters. :-)

  18. I’m with zorxd on this one. I hate hearing people referring to 3G, 4G whatever G and they don’t even know what they’re talking about. Trying to say EVDO, GPRS, etc just confuses them as they have no idea what any of it is and I hate stooping down to that level and having to say “I’m on 3G”…
    *pours some beer out for my G’s*

  19. Apparent disgust for TMO/HSPA+ wow, QK, didn’t havta to dig deep for this person providing his 2 cents, Didja? TMO reluctantly refused to call HSPA+, 4G for almost a year but now there’s all this criticism for finally, following Sprint’s shady ways-since lies worked for them. It works for business. TMO didn’t start the abyss but, you wanna dam them for following suit. If not for TMO ta king the initial jump, this site, as well as others, would still be years to come. Some would still be slightly tantalized e their ifoney since even 6 months after the G1 other carriers barely gave Android a thought. Easy to forget except for spoiled newbies, right, QK?

  20. Who cares if they call it 80G! Bottom line is 21 mbps can’t be touched by old yellar, lol!

  21. HAH! now everybody shut the fuck up about t-mobile’s network not being 4G because neither is Sprint’s, Verizon’s, not even AT&T. so once again HAH!

  22. @Hank Strictly speaking we’re (the USA) the one’s with the wonky units, having to use all them decimals to represent our measurements in the form the rest of the world uses.

    I rather like switching my car’s digital speedometer over to km/ph sometimes when I’m on the open road, I can feel like I’m going a lot faster without breaking the law. :P

  23. Seriously though, although I am a T-Mobile subscriber, former employee and perhaps even fan, I have to admit. T-Mobile’s “3G” coverage really isn’t all that great. When I was on Sprint in 2007 (!) I could stream radio all the way down I-10 from Beaumont to Houston, about 80 miles. Not a single dropout. With T-Mobile, I have EDGE in my apartment, get 3G when I get to the car, and as soon as I hit the city limits I’m back on EDGE (too slow to stream most internet radio), and not long after I’m on GPRS for most of the trip!

  24. Joshua can go sit on a stick.. dumb fuck…

    and this article does make a lot of sense. But like most of you said, isn’t the FCC supposed to be taking care of this??? or are they full of people named Joshua lurking around like the idiots they’re ARE.. if they claim 4G, then we should get 4G… not “almost” 4G… screw this.

  25. We are all victims of mass deception, mass ignorance, and the machine that is marketing which will always pray upon these for its own gains.

    Such is the industry, eh? Just try telling someone outside of the phone circle that your android phone is not a “Droid” phone.

    “3G” and “4G” have become buzzwords, and the real standards have taken a back seat. The average person doesn’t know or care about the technologies or standards. 4 Gs must be better than 3, right?

  26. @Zorxd

    “Finally. So can we please start using the real terms?


    No *G bullshit.”

    First and foremost I agree with you, but when you have a nation that’s filled with iPhone idiots nobody will take the time to learn those terms.

    Sure these terms may be simple for us, but the average person is either going to be blown out of the water and/or bored. Yeah whatever, so do I have 3G or 4G?

    To take it a step further, to this day many people still don’t know the difference between EDGE and 3G…

  27. Wikipedia taught me these a few months ago. It’s silly.

  28. Hit a nerve, did I, Noob?

  29. Technically 4G is 100 mbps. In this respect, Sprint can be considered guilty of false advertising.

  30. Chris-absolutely correct. Nobody truly has 4G. It’s all about mbps, for most.

  31. Seriously, this has become an anti T-mobile site since QKennemer became a writer with Phandroid. It’s not sole based on this article-now, I can read title/first sentence of any article & know if Kennemer wrote it based on his evident resentment for T-Mobile & It’s products “I know you’re not surprised.” Seems a good writer would be able to consistently present the facts without his using it as a soapbox for his own personal beliefs-but, that would be a GOOD writer.

  32. Irony is, writing an article asking/implying that T-Mobile’s going 4G, referencing the new myTouch HD & then, putting out this piece. Seriously, this has become an anti T-mobile site since QKennemer became a writer with Phandroid. It’s not sole based on this article-now, I can read title/first sentence of any article & know if Kennemer wrote it based on his evident resentment for T-Mobile & It’s products “I know you’re not surprised.” Seems a good writer would be able to consistently present the facts without his using it as a soapbox for his own personal beliefs-but, that would be a GOOD writer.

    1. Great copy and paste job. Too bad I didn’t even write the meat and potatoes of this article. And yes, T-Mobile IS going 4G, marketing wise. The MyTouch HD/4G ordeal was because we didn’t know if they’d brand the new MyTouch as the MyTouch 4G. That’s been cleared up.

      Again, not sure where you get this idea of me being against T-Mobile from, but you’re highly mistaken. Refer to my reasoning here. Thanks.

  33. I wonder how far a class action lawsuit against Sprint for all “4G” phone owners would go?

  34. like i said once before, t-mobile usa is the only carrier in last place for now. they will own the rest soon enough. dont blink you might miss it.i had verizon droid and its 3g was slow and i dont even want to talk about att!, sprint was to only other carrier that the network was good!

  35. Anthony, you obviously don’t read much on the subject and do not have hands on experience with multiple phones. The HSPA+ network is by far the fastest right now, its not in last place. The G2 on this network blows away the epic “4G” and the EVO “4G” with 2.2. Unfortunately tmobile didn’t start off lying about their network, so folks have already discounted as behind sprints 4G and verizons fabled LTE, which has yet to debut. Read up bro, HSPA+ is and will be faster than both. Get your hands on these phones and see the difference for yourself.

  36. Wake up folks you may think it’s a technology race but fact is it’s about revenue and customers first with all carriers. Long term slow growth was the key to success in the past and it will be in the future, forget your instant gratifacation and back the carriers who support customers and technologies as priorty….T-Mobile and Sprint, who knows one day soon, they will be one in the same. Hell just look at T-Mobile and Orange in the UK.

  37. Checked Grammar, it’s 100% OK, and the content is 110% Awesome.

    Joshua, go back to school.

    Everyone else, you’re right, this article kicks ass! Let’s take it to the streets!

  38. I’m using Bell’s HSPA+ network here in Canada, advertised as 3.5G+. On average, i’m getting 4-5.8 mbps on my Galaxy S, which isn’t even a HSPA+ phone to begin with. Wireless tethering gives me the exact same speeds with an average 2 mbps upload speed. The Desire Z, being the 1st HSPA+ phone on Bell, can do double that so I wouldn’t be surprised if T-Mobile came out on top in the end.

  39. I think someone should mandate that all the wireless caries call their 3g service 3g. It gets confusing having Verizon on evdo rev a and hspa and then at&t witch actual calls it 3g. I have an 1phone 4 on at&t and live in the Detroit area. I can confirm that in the Detroit area i get anywhere from 1mbs to 5mbs depending on my signal. That’s enough bandwidth to stream video and music and all while driving around. I can say that if you live in a city like Detroit which has solid at&t coverage you will get real 3g. The most i have seen on Verizon is 500kbs which is not 3g, but is 2.5g or even 2g (edge as at&t calls it). another reason to come out with a wireless standard and have all carriers call it the same thing. As for 4g they need to set a standard and then begin developing the 4g to meet the speed requirement or standard just like 3g has to be 1mbs-5mbs. As a consumer all i look fore is how fast dose the network run when a speed test is done. I will then try to run steaming video and music and if it cant do that its not 3g. As for 4g i would be doing a speed test to see if it goes beyond the 5mbs of 3g. If it makes past 5mbs i would call it 4g. You have to remember your cable modem can go anywhere from 1mbs to 32mbs and beyond which is a huge range. I would think that to qualify for 4g it would have to be faster than 4g and use a specific signal or technology. All i care is that a dual verizon/at&t compatible iphone with 4g comes out soon so i can choose between the network that’s best and not be stuck with one or the other. I will scream for joy when the day comes that i can buy one phone and say im going with at&t right now because it has the fastest speeds but 6 month later verizon gets faster speeds and i can switch. This will give users the ability to be on the fastest network all the time without having to buy a new phone each time. We all know that no one network will be the fastest forever. I want cell phones to become like modems. You can buy one at best buy and then call up whatever cable company and get service for it. Then 10 months later have problems with your isp and switch all while keeping your current modem. This would also reduce e-waste as people could keep old perfectly working phones and switch. all i can say is the day i can plug a 4g smart phone or usb stick into my router and get a 15mb connection i will switch to 4g! Saying bye bye to cable all together. I also think people need to give at&t a break. so they don’t have 3g anywhere but in the cities. At lest they have 3g. If you think about it verizons so called 3g running at 300kbs is actually comparable to at&ts edge especially when it comes to speed and coverage. Also don’t forget that at&t dose voice and data at the same time. Verizon may have solid voice service but when it comes to data they suck.

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