Few months ago, everyone was expecting a 4G-compatible successor to iPhone 4. When the new iPhone 4S was launched last month, AT&T managed to keep Apple fans less disappointed, at least by offering the fastest mobile Internet speed via 3G (not 4G) network. AT&T is proudly waving its 4G flag while keeping mum on the inability of 4S A5 microchip to support any known 4G technologies.
iPhone 4S supports mobile Internet connection as fast as 14.4 Mbps over HSDPA network. Like EDGE and EV-DO, the fastest wireless broadband network for iPhone 4S is merely 3G by technical definition. Which makes AT&T the sole bearer of “4G” flag, since Verizon and Sprint do not have HSDPA connectivity. Shoppers don’t care anyway. All they want is at least the faster phone, and any mobile broadband technology below 4G is deemed one step away from obsolesce. Surprisingly, the industry group that is expected to strictly classify wireless network standards opened the doors for the commercial definition of 4G technology. Last year, ITU supported the prevalent use of the term 4G to refer to enhanced 3G technologies regardless of the technical specifications of such near-4G networks. Since then, carriers with advanced 3G networks have been calling themselves 4G providers. The decision of ITU has no impact though on the technical standards for wireless Internet.
To be classified as real 4G, a network must have a maximum download speed of 100 Mbps. 14.4 Mbps is the highest possible download speed that can be supported by the HSDPA networks of AT&T, too low compared with the 100 Mbps speed requirement for 4G connection.4G-branded smart phones have been around for years, but to date, no US carriers have commercially available 4G technology yet. LTE-Advanced, which meets the ITU requirements for 4G technology, is expected to debut next year or in 2013, with Verizon on the lead. The current LTE technology, the forerunner of LTE-Advanced, is only 3G by ITU definition and is not supported by iPhone 4S. LTE-compatible mobile phones passed speed tests with flying colors, so those who need the fastest mobile connectivity features should look outside Apple stores for the moment.
The most popular smart phone brand in the US, iPhone won the largest market share for its compact design and good battery life. Keeping the traditional size of the brand seems to delay adaption to upcoming 4G networks. The future iPhone 5 is another subject of 4G speculations. But market analysts feel that 3G will stay for several more years until real 4G networks become stable and profitable.