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Feb 9 2012   12:49PM GMT

Is the iPhone 4S a 4G Device? Depends on Who You Ask

Ed Hardy Ed Hardy Profile: Ed Hardy

It’s a seemingly simple question: Is the newest iPhone a 4G smartphone? Nevertheless, it has a somewhat complex answer.

If you’re a Verizon or Sprint subscriber, the answer is easy: this device does not support either of these carriers’ 4G standards, LTE or WiMAX. The situation for AT&T’s version isn’t so cut-and-dried, however. 

Apple iPhone 4SApple itself does not say that the iPhone 4S is 4G, or that it supports AT&T’s HSPA+ service. If you look at Apple’s specs page for the iPhone 4S, the 3G standards HSDPA and HSUPA are clearly listed, but there’s no mention of 4G HSPA+.

AT&T’s website, on the other hand, does claim that this smartphone supports HSPA+, and reportedly is trying to get Apple to add a 4G icon to the status bar in the next iOS update, which will be displayed at the top of the screen when the phone has an HSPA+ connection.

My guess is the difference in opinion comes down to Apple wanting to save the term “4G” for its next model, which is widely expected to offer LTE — a wireless data standard that is much faster than HSPA+. AT&T does consider HSPA+ to be 4G, and would be thrilled to be able to claim to have the only 4G-enabled iPhone.

Phil Schiller, head of marketing for Apple, summed up his company’s thoughts on this issue best: “We’re not going to get into the debate about what’s 4G and what isn’t. We’ll leave that for others to talk about.”

Taking Extreme Speed to New LimitsIn AT&T’s defense, studies have generally shown that AT&T’s iPhone 4S has better download performance than either Verizon’s or Sprint’s versions, which use 3G EV-DO Rev. A.

HSPA+ vs. LTE
If you want to put things in perspective, real-world figures for the HSPA+ service on the latest iPhone put it in the 2-3 Mbps range. Still, that’s faster than the older iPhone 4.

Because there’s no LTE-enabled iPhone yet there’s no way to definitively say how fast this device will be, but other LTE-enabled smartphones are getting 5-12 Mbps. Much faster, anyway you slice it.

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