AT&T Announces its First ‘4G’ Phone — But Doesn’t Tell You Where it Will Work

The tweets were direct and to the point — “HTC Inspire 4G will be available on Feb. 13 for $99.99 with contract!,” said the corporate feed from AT&T. While that seems like an aggressive price for such a full-featured smartphone (humongous screen, Android 2.2, all the assorted bells and whistles), you really have to dig deep to try to find out where you might actually be able to experience AT&T’s version of “4G” speeds — and then be prepared to dig deeper to find out how much you will actually have to pay to enjoy such service.

Let’s start with the 4G coverage issue — as you may recall back at CES AT&T jumped onto the 4G marketing bandwagon with both feet, by proclaiming that not only would its later-in-the-year LTE network be a “4G” entity, but that it was also claiming its ongoing rollout of HSPA+ services also qualified for the 4G label. We will put aside for now the argument about whether or not HSPA+ is really a big step forward and ask a simpler question: Where can customers actually get HSPA+ services from AT&T?

Maybe others are more adept at poking around the AT&T customer site than I am, but after opening many different links and web pages the only conclusion I can come to is… that AT&T isn’t telling anyone exactly where its HSPA+ services are available. On a new part of its site devoted to all things 4G, AT&T says explicitly:

AT&T has deployed HSPA+ to virtually 100% of our nation’s fastest mobile broadband network, which enables 4G speeds when combined with enhanced backhaul.

It’s that last part of the line that seems to be the kicker, for the next sentence says:

We are rapidly expanding enhanced backhaul to cell sites throughout the country, adding new cell sites weekly.

OK — but if I want to buy an HTC Inspire on Feb. 13, shouldn’t I at least know where I might be able to use it? AT&T’s coverage maps are no help since they don’t break out where HSPA+ coverage might be. Another FAQ drill-down on the 4G page provides a little more clarity but gets us no closer to an answer:

Question:
Where and when will 4G from AT&T be available to me?
Answer:
AT&T is constantly deploying upgraded backhaul to deliver 4G speeds. AT&T currently covers millions of customers across the country with upgraded backhaul, and will soon let you know where 4G is available in particular markets.

Well — I guess we can wait for AT&T to tell us where 4G is available, whenever that “upgraded backhaul” gets put into place. (And as Fierce Wireless notes, AT&T is also mum on how fast its 4G speeds will be.) Remember, they are moving heaven and earth to get this done so — your speed of 4G service arrival may vary. As for the pricing — the $99.99 device price sounds sweet, as does the support for a mobile hotspot feature, which AT&T highlights in its press release. However… the fine print notes that you will need (on top of whatever voice plan you choose) an additional data plan (the least expensive starts at an additional $15 a month) as well as a DataPro tethering plan (another $45 a month for just 2 GB of data) if you want to use the mobile hotspot feature.

So potential customers are actually looking at a monthly bump of at least $60 (and probably more if you want to use a lot of data) on top of the phone price and whatever calling plan you choose — maybe at the high end of what smartphone/4G pricing is at these days, but certainly not overly expensive compared to other providers. The real question is, where can you use it? When those answers become apparent the value of AT&T’s 4G offering will be easier to judge.

UPDATE: A day later, AT&T has rejiggered its mobile hotspot data plans — with some more confusing math that basically says you can now pay $45 a month for 4 GB of data (see, we told you more would cost more). But they still don’t tell you where you can use it… maybe that info will come out tomorrow?

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