T-Mobile stays competitive by marketing non-existent 4G

There has always been a fine line between corporate marketing and company “spin,” and T-Mobile USA seems to be walking a tightrope between the two with its latest campaign claiming to be ‘America’s Largest 4G Network’ – despite not owning any 4G spectrum and flogging HSPA+ to the masses.

A source close to TechEye recently challenged T-Mobile on its claims about HSPA+ being a 4G network only to get a rather stuttered and disjointed response.

Our anonymous source reports she had been rather peeved upon receiving an email from T-Mobile with the message “Share moments, make memories–at 4G speeds.”

Having at least two tech brain cells to rub together, our source decided to call her friendly local T-Mobile PR to get the low down on the firm’s new and not entirely honest marketing campaign.

Oddly enough, or not as the case may be, our source tells us T-Mobile seemed rather reluctant to answer her questions directly, preferring instead to bleat on about customer satisfaction and unaware he is about to tumble into his own PR-y marketing trap.

Source: “Is T-Mobile lying about having a 4G network, yes or no?”

T-Mobile lackey: “HSPA+ has proven to reach the same speeds, and in some cases higher speeds than current 4G networks.”

Source: “So you admit that T-Mobile doesn’t have a 4G network after all?”

T-Mobile rep: “Um, well, customers have been delighted with the impressive speeds offered by T-Mobile’s network…” [cue more fumbling responses and ramblings about customer satisfaction being most satisfactory, etc. etc. ad nauseum.]

Permit us to cut through the fud and explain what T-Mobile is obviously incapable of getting across eloquently. 

HSPA+ is an enhanced 3G technology, which boasts downloads in the one and two megabit range. 3G itself refers to third generation mobile telephony communications protocol. 4G (fourth generation technology) on the other hand, boasts downloads at a rate of 5, 8, 12 or even 21 megabits a second, with faster speeds on the horizon.

Clearly, 4G download rates exceed speeds that 3G could ever accomplish. That said, T-Mobile is choosing to stick to its guns, claiming that its HSPA+ network – think souped up car with old-but-tinkered-with engine – is in some cases faster than 4G. So the firm reckons it’s therefore ok to label the service “4G,” even though that would be – dare we say it – a rather blatant lie.

How to justify lying to customers? Well, that’s easy, customers are so dense they apparently need T-Mobile to condescendingly dumb things down for them. An unnamed T-Mobile rep told our source that by blanketing its technology as 4G, it would “simplify shopping and comparison for users.” Which means that 4G simply means “faster than 3G” in T-Mobile’s twisted marketing world-gone-wild.

The same T-Mobile rep then bungled into an explanation about how the company felt comfortable calling its HSPA+ 3G technology ‘4G’ because 4G had yet to be clearly defined by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), the standards body which defines network technologies. Ahhh, the good old “if you can’t convince them, confuse them” trick – classy!

Thus, by tapping into this technically-ill-defined loophole, T-Mobile is calling its HSPA+ network 4G to put itself in direct competition with the marketing efforts of larger competitors Verizon and AT&T, who actually do own 4G spectrum and currently are building real 4G networks.  

We’re not saying this isn’t exceptionally clever spin, but we do think this truth-twisting and over exaggeration may come back to bite the firm somewhere down the line when the ITU does get round to defining 4G – and rest assured, it will probably not define 3G as 4G – leaving T-Mobile to eat its words and a generous slice of humble PR pie.  

But until then, it’s highly likely the company will be able to trick shoppers into purchasing phones on the assumption that HSPA+ is indeed a 4G network. Score one to crap marketing – now if you’ll excuse us, we’re off to patent the term 10G, just in case.