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Home » iPhone, Technology

iPhone 4S — 4G or not?

By: 10 March 2012 One Comment

Buried amongst all the talk of the new Apple iPad this week was news of the release of iOS 5.1.

What is significant about the new Apple operating system? Owners of the iPhone 4S who are AT&T customers and downloaded the update may have noticed the “3G” icon on their phones had been replaced with a “4G” icon. That’s right — the new update sure appears to turn the iPhone 4S into one that’s cruising the ultra-fast, next generation 4G data network.

There are a couple of questions surrounding the update — has anything really changed and are iPhone 4S users really on a 4G network?

The first question is easy enough to answer. AT&T says iPhone 4S owners have been on the company’s 4G network since the day the phone was released. In other words, all that’s really changed with the 5.1 update is that the icon identifying the data network has been changed — the speed hasn’t been boosted one whit.

What is more difficult to answer, however, is whether the AT&T network can technically be identified as 4G. You can read a pretty good argument against the notion that 4S owners on AT&T have a “real” 4G phone here. It all has to do with the technical difference between 4G LTE (which carriers such as Sprint and Verizon use) and AT&T’s HSPA+ network, which is faster than conventional 3G but slower than LTE.

Confused? Well, here’s something that might help. On the AT&T network, iPhone 4S owners can uploaded and download data faster than AT&T customers with iPhone 4 and earlier phones can. Want proof? Have a look at the following two tests run through the mobile app available from on an iPhone 4S and an iPhone 4. Tests on both phones were run simultaneously on phones accessing AT&T networks in Benton, Ark.

iPhone 4 running on AT&T's 3G network. The top download speed in the test was 0.77 megabits per second (Mbps) and the top upload speed was 0.41 Mbps.

iPhone 4S running on AT&T's 4G network. The top download speed during the test was 4.18 megabits per second (Mbps) and the top download speed was 0.86 Mbps.

Here, then, is the point. There’s some dispute over just how “4G” AT&T’s HSPA+ network actually is. Still, 4S customers enjoy faster network speeds on AT&T than other iPhone owners have on that network and that’s been true since the day Apple released its newest phone.

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email =

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