Sorry!! The article you are trying to read is not available now.

AT&T Falsely 'Upgrades' iPhone 4S to 4G

Print comment Post Comments

Sorry, folks. Your iPhone 4S (AAPL) is still not a 4G device, despite what AT&T (T) is now telling you.

This week, Apple released an update to its iOS 5 software that tweaked a few settings including battery life, camera face detection, and iPad volume. But among the iOS 5.1 changelog was one curious item: "Updated AT&T network indicator." It wasn't until users installed the upgraded iOS did they realize what that meant.

The 3G iPhone 4S has somehow magically become a 4G phone -- even though it's still connecting to the same HSPA+ network and still maintaining the same 14.4Mbps download speeds. Comparatively, on AT&T's LTE network -- what really constitutes a 4G network -- devices can theoretically top 42Mbps. The Verizon (VZ) and Sprint (S) models still bear the 3G networking label.

Here's what the AT&T iPhone 4S bears now as a networking icon -- courtesy of The Verge.

But of course, that didn't stop users from thinking the iPhone 4S has suddenly become a 4G device. On Twitter, @mariissaaaxo wrote, "ooo i am lovinn the 4G on my iphone now!" Ian Weaver tweeted, "I have 4G on my iPhone now?! #hellyeah." And @JakeGoecks13 bragged, "How bout the new update to the iPhone for AT&T makes it 4g now #movinup."

Not quite.

As The Verge's Nilay Patel noted, when Phil Schiller -- Apple's SVP of marketing -- introduced the iPhone 4S in October, he neglected to assign the 4G label to the device. When referring to the connection speeds, Schiller said, "This is what the majority of our competitors claim when they talk about 4G performance." Adding, "We're not going to get into a debate in the industry about what's 4G and what isn't -- we'll leave that for others to talk about."

It was a shrewd sidestep. It trained a spotlight on the Android (GOOG) devices that have "4G" in their name -- like the Atrix 4G (MMI), Inspire 4G, and Infuse 4G -- despite the fact that they don't use AT&T's LTE networks or promote actual 4G speeds.

And yet, by eschewing a definitive classification, Schiller left the "door open" to refer to the iPhone 4S as 4G like its HSPA+ brethren at some point in the future.

But Apple claims it wasn't sneaky mind behind the change and fingered AT&T as the brains behind the operation. Speaking with The Verge, an Apple spokesperson said, "AT&T has rolled out a nationwide HSPA+ network, and they refer to this high-speed network as 4G."

Never mind the fact that, in May 2010, AT&T spokesperson Seth Bloom told Fierce Wireless that it would be disingenuous to refer to the HSPA+ network as 4G. "I think that companies need to be careful that they're not misleading customers by labeling HSPA+ as a 4G technology."

Perhaps Bloom expected that the iPhone would be a 4G device by now. Then again, with yesterday's introduction of the LTE-compliant iPad, an actual 4G iPhone won't be too far off now.

While it's clearly an underhanded and duplicitous marketing tactic, judging from the reactions on Twitter, it's definitely an effective one. After all, it's not like an iPhone 4S user who's unfamiliar with network connections is going to fire up and compare speeds with a Droid Bionic or HTC Thunderbolt. To them, a 4G icon means 4G phone.

But on the bright side, maybe RIM (RIMM) has just discovered a way to save the company.

For an investment angle on these and many more tech stocks, take a FREE trial to the TechStrat Report by Sean Udall.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.