iOS and AT&T “4G”

Brad McCarty writes over on The Next Web about iOS 5.1 now using the 4G badge for AT&T’s HSPA+ network:

AT&T is defining its HSPA+ network as 4G, but by the very definition of HSPA+, theoretical speeds aside, it doesn’t qualify as 4G. […] This is clearly, without any doubt, a continued marketing ploy by AT&T and Apple has allowed the carrier to dupe consumers.

Shawn Blanc tweeted:

I wonder if the iPhone showing AT&T “4G” on 5.1 is a part of the negotiations to keep the new iPad’s LTE data plans low.

That was my first thought as well. I definitely think it must be related to the new iPad that supports LTE.

Here’s how AT&T shows their 4G coverage (this is what Apple links to, though I’ve zoomed in one level because the true nationwide map only shows where they support any data; you need to zoom in one level to see the breakdown of 4G, 3G, EDGE, etc.):

AT&T's HSPA+ and 4G coverage map

The dark blue areas are what AT&T calls 4G.

Verizon has a page that compares their coverage with AT&T for “true” 4G. Here’s their view of AT&T’s coverage:

Verizon's view of AT&T 4G coverage

and their own 4G coverage (they do also have a more complex map that looks more like AT&T’s version above for detailed coverage):

Verizon's view of their own 4G coverage

Imagine if Apple hadn’t made the change in iOS 5.1 to allow AT&T to label their HSPA+ network as 4G. The coverage comparison would have been just as Verizon shows on their site. This would have been disaster for AT&T in the short term for sales of data plans for iPads. AT&T claims that their 4G LTE network is “planned to be largely complete by the end of 2013”. That’s a long time to spend behind Verizon. The situation would only get worse when the presumed iPhone with LTE support is released later this year.

AT&T has been petitioning Apple to call their HSPA+ network 4G on the iPhone since the iPhone 4S was released. At that time, they were trying to get ahead of Verizon. Now with the iPad, they’re trying not to fall too far behind.