Ask Techland: What’s the Deal with 4G? Is the New iPhone 4G?

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I’d submit that if you’re looking for a smartphone and you don’t care about streaming video or sharing its connection with a computer, a 3G device will probably work just fine for you. The technology is well-supported and battery life tends to be longer, given that 4G devices continually search for 4G towers unless you turn the 4G connection off (4G phones fall back to 3G networks if they can’t find a 4G signal).

Battery life in 4G devices is constantly being improved, though, so it may not be too much of an issue for long. And, again, if you want to future-proof yourself, LTE is where everything’s heading here in the U.S., at least as far as your next two-year contract is concerned.

Is the AT&T iPhone 4S a 4G phone?

As for the new iPhone, your friend is right in the sense that AT&T (and T-Mobile, for that matter) considers devices using the HSPA+ protocol to be 4G devices—as such, the iPhone 4S is listed as a 4G device on AT&T’s website. The Verizon iPhone 4S uses a 3G network, which Verizon rates as having average download speeds between 0.6 Mbps and 1.4 Mbps.

Keeping in mind that companies are underestimating average speeds, take a gander at something like Gizmodo’s nationwide iPhone 4S speed test, for instance. You’ll notice that the AT&T model pulled in an average download speed of 2,400 Mbps, while the Verizon version managed 1,854 Mbps. That’s a difference, to be sure, but it’s not a huge difference.

But note that if you take a look at the three speed tests run by Gotta Be Mobile (here, here and here), you’ll notice the AT&T iPhone 4S’ upload speeds are generally two to three times faster than the Verizon version’s upload speeds. Upload speed is important, too, since you’re basically uploading data every time you request a website to load up on your phone.

(MORE: Ask Techland: How Can I Clear Up Space in Gmail?)

So, short answer (too late), under optimal conditions the iPhone 4S on AT&T is theoretically faster at downloading and uploading data than the Verizon (and Sprint) versions. But as far as the world standards for 4G networks—as set by the International Telecommunications Union—go, none of the networks in the U.S. qualify as delivering actual 4G speeds.

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