AT&T, 4G, and the New iPad

From Apple.com, when you go to buy a new iPad and you click the link to AT&T’s coverage viewer, here’s the map you get:

AT&T 4G Data Coverage Map

On this map, AT&T makes no differentiation between their HSPA+ network and their LTE network. Both are simply classified as “4G”. Which means someone looking to buy a new iPad with 4G LTE connectivity, who clicks on the link from the Apple website, is taken to this map where they see that AT&T has 4G coverage all over the place. There is no reason for someone to assume that the 4G connectivity Apple is referring to on their website is different from the 4G coverage that AT&T is displaying on their map.

For example: the two cities that I want 4G LTE coverage in are Kansas City and Denver. I know that there is 4G LTE in Kansas City because I see the AT&T billboards around town and I get the junk mail delivered to my house. And, when looking at this map on AT&T’s website I can see that not only does AT&T have 4G in Kansas City but they also have it in Denver.

AT&T 4G coverage in Denver and in Kansas City

Based on the information in this map, I bought an AT&T iPad on Wednesday.

I chose AT&T because the pricing of their plans is better and for the times that 4G LTE is not available and the iPad falls back to their HSPA+ network, it is a faster data connection than Verizon’s 3G.

On the map’s legend is a link for “4G”, which takes you to a popup page describing terms used in the legend. The definition for 4G is as follows:

4G: The areas shown in darkest blue represent AT&T owned HSPA+ network with enhanced backhaul. AT&T’s HSPA+ network is capable of delivering 4G speeds when combined with enhanced backhaul. Learn more about 4G.

Clicking to learn more takes you to AT&T’s 4G LTE info page. (If this is starting to sound confusing that’s because it is.) On this info page there is another coverage map (click the “coverage” tab at the bottom) which lists the actual cities that have 4G LTE. Ugh.

AT&T Actual 4G LTE Cities

As you can see, a 4G LTE city is denoted by an orange dot. There are far fewer 4G LTE cities than there are “4G” areas. And so, according to this map, Denver does not have AT&T 4G LTE service.

It wasn’t until Thursday that I discovered this (thanks to Ben). I felt tricked and taken for a fool. I cancelled my AT&T iPad and ordered a new one that connects to Verizon. Because Verizon does have LTE service in both Kansas City and in Denver.

We already know that AT&T will not be changing their “4G” moniker for HSPA+. It is bad enough that Apple has given in to AT&T at some measure by now displaying “4G” as the connection type for AT&T iPhones running iOS 5.1.

But at the very least Apple should be linking to AT&T’s coverage map which shows AT&T’s actual 4G LTE cities. The currently-linked-to map is deceptive and misleading given the context. How many people buying a new iPad will purchase an AT&T model based on the assumption that there is AT&T 4G LTE coverage in their city when it’s actually just HSPA+?

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