The 4G deception

These days, all the US mobile carriers are touting their allegedly hot new 4G networks, pushing people to upgrade their phones and get up to 10x faster mobile data speeds.

Note the only single consumer benefit touted is a possibly faster download time, it is not guaranteed.

This whole thing is a deception. Here’s why.

The 4G Deception

Sprint and Verizon are making 4G networks, using WiMAX and LTE. This is real 4G. In 2011, AT&T and T-Mobile were not using LTE yet, they just rebranded their HSPDA+ 3G networks with faster speeds as 4G. (Reference: How AT&T and T-Mobile conjured 4G networks out of thin air). In 2012, AT&T says it has a LTE rolling out, but it’s promoting that it’s 4G service is really a dash of LTE and a lot of HSPDA+.

But what does an LTE network actually do for customers, over and above the possible speed increase? It’s the next global standard, so roaming will work, okay, and it should have less cross-interference between cell users, rare but okay, and, and, thats it! No better coverage or in-building penetration, no longer battery life, no cheaper services, nothing.

And only available in big metros, so you pay the 4G price for 3G service is most places anyway.

The Cap Deception

It really sounds great to have a faster network, but in this world of data caps and throttling, all it means is that customers get to their data caps faster. Benefit to customer, none. Benefit to carrier, they get to nail more customers with overages and gouge them mercilessly. Its the ‘free credit-card’ scam where they hit you with an usurious interest rate all over again. They can almost guarantee that most 4G customers will exceed their caps early in the month and often exceed the next level cap as well. I mean, 2GB then two more, that’s nothing when people are watching movies over the mobile data network.

The carriers, especially the LTE ones, are absolutely drooling over customers who roam. They see not only gouging on roaming rates (which they already do), but even more roaming data transfer, and therefore more roaming data rate income. Given that roaming rates are already insanely high (and even more profitable), this means they get to take more out of the customer’s pocket before the customer even knows about it.

The Service Deception

They all promote 4G as the best new thing, Verizon especially selling on the brilliance of “the network”. But they do not discuss any improvement to existing services on these networks. Consumers assume new means better, and consumers do assume that 4G will reduce dropped calls, coverage issues and slowdowns. None of the carriers explain that the 4G networks will do none of these things, you’ll get the same coverage issues, same dropped calls and the same slowdowns at peak hours. This magical network may be better is some imaginary way, but the consumer’s service will still suck. (See 3G vs. 4G: What You Should Know Before You Switch)

The Hog Deception

As with any service, there are those who use more than others. Some mobile users use more data than others. The carriers coined the term “data hog” as a derogatory reference to them, then set out to blame these customers for terrible network service all customers get, and used this made-up excuse to cap plans. This is the most egregious deception.

It costs a little money to add capacity to the network (and a lot if the cell towers need upgrading or adding to). It costs nothing to add a new subscriber, it makes them money instead. So carriers skimp on adding capacity and go nuts trying to add subscribers. To the point that they are so far oversubscribed for the capacity that they have, that even ’normal’ users notice the slowdowns. So, instead of fixing the problem and bringing capacity up inline with subscriber growth, they deceive. They imply that network capacity is limited, not true, that adding capacity is expensive, even less true (unless new towers are involved), and that the reason the network is slow is because these made-up customers are using all the available capacity! If you believe them, I have a nice bridge to sell you in Manhattan.

When called on this subscriber vs capacity issue, the carriers have stated that everybody does this, so its normal and OK. ISP’s oversubscribe internet access capacity, cable companies oversubscribe television channels on their cable feeds, airlines oversubscribe flights. Just because everyone else does something does not make it right! The idea behind oversubscription is based on the concept that all users of a service will not all need it at once, so the service can be shared. But the carriers have long gone past the point where even the few using the network at a time are not exceeding that network’s capacity.

The Open Deception

And interesting omission from all the carriers on 4G data is that none of them actually promise that this magic new network will actually deliver what people want. The FCC allows carriers to throttle, censor and block services on the mobile data network. Consumers incorrectly assume that the 4G network, because it is faster, and so much ‘better’, means that this throttling, blocking and censorship is no longer necessary. Not true.

None of the 4G networks promise unfettered access. None of the carriers offer an open network. All of them are trying to create their own content services to compete with iTunes and Netflix, and are shaping their traffic so that mobile users will turn to their expensive services rather than deal with throttled or limited access to better and cheaper services. 4G does not, in any way, open up the network, no consumer benefit here either.

The Benefits Deception

You can watch movies on your phone. You can download and listen to music on it. Watch live TV on your mobile devices. These are the touted benefits of 4G. In reality, all they are saying is that you can get these things faster, with less waiting.

What they are not saying is if you can do this faster, you will do it more often. Which means you will use more data, and rely on using more data. In which case, you will reach your cap sooner and let the gouging feast begin. This means that on 4G, with the ‘standard’ 2GB cap, if you download a movie on day one of your billing period, you will exceed your cap, and have to pay insane charges for additional data.

Consumers want the benefit and convenience of using more mobile services and data, but the cost to consumers of these benefits outweighs the benefits themselves. Buy and download a $4 3GB movie on your mobile phone and it will cost $4 plus $20 for exceeding your cap. Some benefit that is!

So what can we do about this?

Man, I wish I knew. The carriers own the FCC so this mess is allowed. There is no consumer protection agency on the USA to protect us from them. And given that 320 million Americans are covered by just 2 carriers and 2 mega carriers, there’s no competitive reason for them to offer consumers anything more than the current rip-off.

In short, the only thing we consumers can do is complain and be ignored, write ranty blog posts like this one and stay on our 3G contracts.

Posted By Hilton Lipschitz · Feb 17, 2012 12:45 PM