Ask TeensTalkTech: What’s The Difference Between AT&T’s 4G Networks?

Ask TeensTalkTech is where we try to answer your questions on technology– from computer problems to cell phone questions and everything in between. Have any questions of your own? Either comment below, email us at or tweet us (@teenstalktech) and we’ll try to answer them in a future post!

att 4g networks

As you’ve heard by now, AT&T has this month released their first two phones capable of using their brand new, much faster 4G LTE network. 4G LTE is AT&T’s true 4G network, and looks to really give you all the speed of your home internet wherever you go.

Now we know a lot of you are really confused right now– “didn’t AT&T already have 4G? What about phones like the Atrix 4G, Thrill 4G, and Infuse 4G? Aren’t they 4G?” Well, the answer to that is yes and no– we’ll explain.

What is 4G HSPA+?

att 4g network chart

Earlier this year, AT&T announced that this year they will launch two 4G networks, one based on a tech called HSPA+ (the 4G T-Mobile uses, pretty much a faster, upgraded version of their current 3G networks) and one based on LTE (the same tech as Verizon’s blazing fast 4G network). Back in January when AT&T made this announcement they had to call their HSPA+ network 4G because at that same time Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon were already in the process of expanding their 4G networks and releasing 4G phones. AT&T needed some sort of 4G of their own to keep up in the marketing game while they began setting up their LTE network, so like T-Mobile they called their HSPA+ network 4G even though it is only slightly faster than their 3G (which is unlike T-Mobile’s HSPA+ 4G network which, even though it’s not LTE, provides some pretty fast speeds right up there with Verizon’s 4G LTE network).

All the 4G phones AT&T has so far been releasing this year that they say are 4G (i.e. the above phones, Galaxy S II, Torch 4G 9810Atrix 2 etc.), are just phones that could connect to the faster, HSPA+, upgraded 3G network and cannot connect to the new LTE one.

And while HSPA+ is capable of 4G-like speeds (again, just look at T-Mobile’s network), at least in our tests all along the East Coast they were pretty much the same on those “4G” phones as they were on some of AT&T’s top 3G phones (like the 3G-only iPhone 4). Now don’t get us wrong, AT&T’s HSPA+ network isn’t bad and the speeds we got were solid and at times even really fast, it just wasn’t true 4G like this new LTE network will be.

What Is 4G LTE– And Why It’s The Real AT&T 4G

att 4g lte intro

4G LTE is AT&T’s true 4G network that should give you much faster speeds– we’re talking download speeds from 5 Mbps to 20 Mbps, or up to 10x faster than 3G and just like your home internet (and Verizon’s 4G network). This means even less time waiting for things to download (full albums of music can be downloaded in seconds), even faster web browsing, and even HD video chatting and intense online gaming without needing to be on WiFi (though we wouldn’t really recommend much of that last one because of those 2 GB monthly data limits). In short, this is the 4G network we’ve been waiting for.

att 4g lte 2011 network

Now there are a few things to note here. The first and most important is that come this Sunday, AT&T will have only launched this faster LTE network in 15 cities:  Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, Houston, Atlanta, Athens (Georgia), Baltimore, Boston, Washington, D.C., San Juan, Puerto Rico, Oklahoma City, Las Vegas, Indianapolis, Charlotte, Kansas City and Chicago. This means that if you’re not in one of those cities (or really close to it) you won’t yet be able to take advantage of this new network (AT&T plans to cover most of the US by 2013 and plans to add a lot more cities next year– but we don’t yet know which ones).

att 4g lte vs 3g

Yes, 4G LTE is that fast

The bright side of all of this is that even if you don’t live in one of those cities you can still take advantage of AT&T’s HSPA+ network which, while not LTE fast, is still very solid and much faster than Verizon’s and Sprint’s 3G networks (which you drop to when you don’t have 4G coverage on their networks). As confusing as this all is, we gotta say it’s nice to know that AT&T has a solid backup network behind LTE.

The second big thing here is what we mentioned above: all those older “4G” phones won’t be able to work with AT&T’s LTE network as they don’t have the right chips in them. Again, they can still use AT&T’s HSPA+ network, but you’ll need one of those new 4G LTE phones to use the LTE network.

Why You Should Get An LTE Phone Now

htc vivid samsung gs2 skyrocket

If you’re looking for a powerful smartphone on AT&T today, and don’t want the iPhone, we really recommend looking at AT&T’s new LTE phones. While specs wise they may seem just as powerful as other AT&T phones (similar screens, processors, cameras, prices), the LTE phones not only will be able to use this much faster network once AT&T launches it in your area, but they all can also use AT&T’s 4G HSPA+ network so you’ll still be getting solid speeds right now while you wait.

Remember, you’re buying this phone for 2 years and trust us– come next year you’re really gonna wish you had an LTE phone.

For more info on AT&T’s 4G networks, see AT&T’s site here.

Posted on November 15, 2011, in Ask TeensTalkTech, AT&T, Cell Phones and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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