T-Mobile Adds 4G the Easy Way: Relabeling 3G HSPA+

With Sprint Nextel announcing earlier this week that it is the first U.S. carrier to offer 4G service, and Verizon Wireless scheduled to light up its 4G network by the end of this year, T-Mobile is taking a different tack. It’s simply describing its current 3G service as 4G.

On Tuesday, T-Mobile USA began an advertising campaign for “America’s largest 4G network” and the new HTC MyTouch 4G smartphone. Previously, the company had been using the term “4G speeds,” but now it’s describing it as 4G.

T-Mobile ‘Saw an Opportunity’

The company said 200 million customers in the U.S. will have its 4G coverage by year’s end. Sprint has said it intends to cover 120 million customers with its WiMAX network by the end of 2010, and Verizon expects 110 million for its LTE network.

Some observers are noting that T-Mobile’s High Speed Packet Access Plus (or HSPA+) network is just being relabeled as a fourth-generation network, with the very high-speed data transmission implied in that label. Critics say that, technically, HSPA+ isn’t a 4G technology.

But the rub, said Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart, is that “the definition of 3G and 4G networks has been in flux, and T-Mobile is taking advantage” of that confusion. “The marketing people at T-Mobile saw an opportunity and took it,” he said.

Greengart agreed that “most people” would look at HSPA+ as 3G, but, he added, “the official definition of 4G doesn’t include Sprint’s WiMAX or Verizon’s LTE technology either.” For instance, he noted, the telecommunications trade association ITIA has “defined 4G as being the next version of LTE,” not the one currently being built by Verizon.

A key question, he said, is whether T-Mobile’s 4G network will obtain 4G speeds. Greengart said “there probably will be network speeds comparable to 4G” in some areas of T-Mobile’s coverage, although…

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