4G Networks From A Consumer Perspective

CNET reporter Molly Wood often refers to the “literal net,” which is her term for people on the Internet who seem to be obsessive about correcting anything and everything that they think is incorrect. In my opinion the “literal net” has been hard at work trying to correct all of the U.S. carrier’s use of the term 4G.

While it is true that none of the U.S. carrier networks claiming 4G status can reach the required peak speed of 100 Mbps, I honestly don’t think it matters to consumers. What does matter to consumers is, how much are they paying for the service, and are they getting what they are paying for?

I took a look at each of the carrier’s mobile broadband plans and compared the price the carrier’s 4G plan to the price of their 3G plan. What I found is that except for AT&T, each of the carriers charge the same price for their 4G and 3G plans. AT&T actually charges $10 less ($50 vs $60) per month for their 4G mobile broadband plan than 3G plan. T-Mobile does not distinguish between 4G and 3G in their list of plans, though in practice we know there are locations where they only provide 3G service, meaning the prices of 4G and 3G are the same. All of the carriers have a 5 GB data cap except Sprint, who’s $59.99 WiMAX 4G service has no data cap.

My point is that from a cost perspective, there is no difference in what consumers are paying for the two types of data networks. In other words, there is no financial impact to consumers if the 4G data service they are paying for is really providing 3G speeds. If the carrier’s 4G networks had a higher price, then I think the issue of whether 4G is really 4G would be more significant to consumers.

What we do know is that Verizon’s 4G data network is currently significantly faster than all of the other carrier’s 4G networks, so if it is really important to you to have the fastest mobile broadband, Verizon’s is the service for you, provided the network exists in areas where you need to use it. Beyond Verizon, each of the other carriers can claim to have the second fastest network at certain locations or within certain speed intervals.