Is AT&T Misleading About HSPA+ on the Inspire 4G? (Video)

So here’s the situation: 100% of the time, when testing the Inspire 4G, we see the “H+” icon in the notification bar. The user manual says that this means that we are “Connected to 4G.” And yet, we’re not getting HSPA+ speeds. In fact, as this video shows, we’re getting speeds slower than a Nexus One running on AT&T’s 3G network, despite having full bars. In practice, according to AT&T, their HSPA+ network should be providing speeds of “up to 6mbps”.

We’re pretty sure the indicator is misleading. Not only are our data speeds confirming this, but if you go into Network Settings on the Inspire 4G, it clearly shows either UMTS or HSDPA as the network type. If we were on HSPA+ as the indicator implies, we’d see this reflected. And this isn’t an isolated issue with our review unit: other reviewers that we’ve spoken to are experiencing the same issue.

We reached out to AT&T for a response. This is what they told us:

Below is the language we’ve used (since CES) to talk about HSPA+ buildout, Brandon. It’s worth noting that we haven’t yet hit the public launch date of the Inspire 4G – as we get closer to that I should be able to share more information about the icon. But the below information is solid with respect to our HSPA+ buildout. And this was the link I mentioned earlier where Seth (another Seth) saw 6 MB down on his Inspire 4G demo unit.

AT&T operates the nation’s fastest mobile broadband network today, and it’s getting faster in 2011 with 4G. AT&T is the only U.S. company committed to delivering 4G using both HSPA+ and LTE technologies – providing a faster and more consistent experience for customers. The company announced plans today to accelerate its LTE network build, to be largely complete by yearend 2013; AT&T plans to begin its launch of LTE service in mid 2011. Additionally, the company said it has completed its deployment of HSPA+ to virtually 100 percent of its mobile broadband network which enables 4G speeds when combined with Ethernet or fiber backhaul. The company is rapidly expanding Ethernet and fiber to cell sites nationwide — adding new cell sites weekly — and by yearend, expects that nearly two-thirds of its mobile broadband traffic will be on expanded backhaul.

Today, AT&T is already seeing 4G speeds on its existing HSPA+ network with enhanced backhaul in areas of key markets. In these areas, AT&T is seeing network speeds up to approximately 6 Mbps** — and expects these speeds will increase as it accelerates its LTE build and further deploys expanded backhaul.

The marketing copy here makes it seem that “100 percent” of AT&T subscribers have access to HSPA+. This is not the case, unless “enhancements” have been made to backhaul. But what areas in the US have this enhanced backhaul? AT&T doesn’t make this public, so it’s impossible to know. I’ve traveled within a 50 mile radius of my apartment, and didn’t once clock speeds that might be HSPA+.

Ok, so we understand that launching a new network technology takes time. We can’t expect for AT&T to literally flip a switch and have faster speeds available for everyone. But it’s highly misleading that the indicator of the Inspire 4G shows “H+” at all times. It should change to “3G” when the faster speeds are not available. Is that so difficult?

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About The Author
Brandon Miniman
Brandon is a graduate from the Villanova School of Business, located near Philadelphia, PA. He's been a technology writer since 2002, and, in 2005, became Editor-in-Chief of Pocketnow, a then Windows Mobile-focused website. He has since helped to transition Pocketnow into a top-tier smartphone and tablet publication. He's so obsessed with technology that he once entered a candle store and asked if they had a "new electronics" scent. They didn't.