First Impression: T-Mobile’s Numbers Don’t Add Up to 4G

LAS VEGAS — Just a quick blog post whilst we are waiting for the big Verizon press conference to start: After sitting through a well-scripted presentation from wireless provider T-Mobile, I still can’t quite agree that all the numbers the company cites add up to a real “4G” network and service.

While I’m not as hung up as some people over T-Mobile’s decision to call its HSPA+ network a 4G offering I do think that the company is heading down a murky road with its continued use of speed and coverage numbers that don’t hold up to even a modest bit of fact-checking. We’ll try to follow up more thoroughly when we have a chance to really research the claims, but our BS-meter pegged into the red when the first chart offered by T-Mobile was a proclamation that a Nielsen survey found T-Mobile to have the “fastest data [service] in the top 100 markets.*”

What I want to call to your attention is the asterisk — because in fine print at the bottom of the slide the asterisk said that the survey measured T-Mobile against other providers’ 3G services, not the 4G LTE service from Verizon or the 4G WiMAX service from Sprint and Clearwire. So why put up such a slide? Because it all seems to fit with T-Mobile’s strategy of using bluster and a cheeky attitude instead of hard solid facts.

Take the company’s big announcement at CES — that it was now upgrading its networks to a version of HSPA+ that theoretically supports 42 Mbps download speeds. Never mind that T-Mobile’s own (unsubstantiated) drive tests in Las Vegas showed the “42″ network maxing out at 8 Mbps download speeds — it’s 42 in the headline, right? Our pal Mark Sullivan from PC World tried to nail down T-Mobile with some questions about network specifics after the presentation, but no proof of the pudding emerged. And without any detailed coverage maps or even guaranteed advertised download speeds, it’s hard to take T-Mobile at its word when it comes to any type of network-performance or coverage claims.

Is the company building a network that will support fast data downloads? Undoubtedly. Are they going to be aggressive on pricing? So they say. But you have to wonder how long the foggy claims of superiority are going to hold up if and when folks start measuring, checking and verifying. Right now the asterisk is a pretty good placeholder for T-Mobile’s claims of superiority.

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