Friday, March 11, 2011

AT&T customers lash out over capped upload speeds on 4G Android phones, 5x slower than the 3G iPhone 4

AT&T customers lash out over capped upload speeds on 4G Android phones, 5x slower than the 3G iPhone 4

Why is a 3G phone getting faster mobile broadband speeds than a brand new 4G phone on the same network?

Concerned AT&T customers who purchased the HTC Inspire 4G or Motorola Atrix 4G have begun to notice that their upload speeds are being capped and they have started making noise to see if the carrier will address it.

This past month AT&T launched their first pair of 4G phones which operate on the carrier’s 4G HSPA+ network. Even though AT&T has upgraded their entire 3G network to HSPA+, only the markets with enhanced backhaul are experiencing the faster 4G speeds.

So just how fast is AT&T 4G? On the company website it claims 4G network speeds are up to approximately 6 Mbps, but makes no specific mention of upload speeds.

We know that AT&T customers with the iPhone 4 regularly see upload speeds of up to 1.5 Mbps, but it appears that all 4G Android phones are capped at a measly 300 kbps. Upload speeds are not critical to every user, but they do have a direct relation with the quality of video calls. AT&T touts smoother-streaming video as a reason to buy a 4G phone now, so it is troubling that Android customers are being treated different than iPhone users.

Research shows that the Inspire 4G and Atrix 4G both have modems that support High-Speed Uplink Packet Access (HSUPA) with speeds up to 5.7 Mbps. We don’t expect to see these full upload speeds on an actual device, but at least we know the hardware supports faster speeds than what is currently available.

I’ve done my own personal testing with an Atrix 4G all over Texas and I can confirm that upload speeds never surpassed 300 kbps. Download speeds were average (2-3 Mbps), but I’m not sure if the enhanced backhaul has been turned on in my state.

Other users who have tested the Atrix 4G and Inspire 4G against the iPhone 4 have found similar results. Alex Colon of PCMag tested the devices in six different locations and found the iPhone 4 generally reported upload speeds of over 1.5 Mbps, while the Android phones were capped at 300 kbps.

PCMag reached out to AT&T to see if they would comment on the capped upload speeds and they received an answer which hinted at updates to existing models. AT&T did not deny any of the claims and only said, “As you noticed, we have a number of HSUPA devices today and we will have more HSUPA-enabled devices in the future—new devices and updates to existing models.”

By failing to address the claims of PCMag, it appears that AT&T has silently confirmed they are capping the upload speeds on their 4G Android phones.

Upset customers have taken their concerns for the forums with some of them threatening to return their devices if AT&T does not address the issue. The complaints are beginning to grow with a nine page thread on the AT&T forums, a ten pager on the Motorola forums, and a 14 page thread on xda-developers where hackers are trying to defeat the cap.

If you want to look on the bright side, at least these capped upload speeds can be fixed with a simple over-the-air software update. AT&T could be protecting their network by limiting upload speeds until their enhanced backhaul is complete.

Unfortunately, some AT&T customers might be waiting awhile to experience true 4G speeds. The company’s answer center says that 2/3 of their mobile traffic will be delivered over their enhanced backhaul by the end of 2011. AT&T’s coverage map doesn’t exactly specify which areas have enhanced backhaul, so it’s kind of a guessing game as to what areas can access 4G speeds right now.

Thankfully AT&T doesn’t charge any extra data fees for their 4G handsets, but it still puts them in a weird position that some of their 3G phones offer faster broadband speeds than their new 4G lineup (up to 5x faster in some cases).

Finally, in case you were wondering AT&T still claims that third-party drive test data show they continue to have the nation’s fastest mobile broadband network. My experiences would tell me otherwise, but I’m just a blogger so what do I know.

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