Get Garcia: Consumer Watchdogs Plan to File Complaint Over Misleading Marketing of 4G Cell Phones

The term used in countless cell phone ads remains largely undefined in the telecommunitions industry

By Ana Garcia and Robbi Peele
|  Tuesday, Jun 25, 2013  |  Updated 3:14 PM PDT
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If you're confused about what the term 4G means, you're not alone. The term remains largely undefined in the telecommunications industry. Consumer advocate Harvey Rosenfield explains how watchdog groups are trying to keep cell phone carriers accountable for their advertising. Ana Garcia reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on July 25, 2012.

If you're confused about what the term 4G means, you're not alone. The term remains largely undefined in the telecommunications industry. Consumer advocate Harvey Rosenfield explains how watchdog groups are trying to keep cell phone carriers accountable for their advertising. Ana Garcia reports for the NBC4 News at 11 p.m. on July 25, 2012.

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If you’re confused about what the term 4G means, you’re not alone.

Technically it stands for “Fourth Generation,” but the term remains largely undefined, according to the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the United Nations agency in charge of setting global standards for wireless communication.

“Because there’s not this definition of 4G it’s become marketing speak,” said Bill Moore, CEO of RootMetrics.

Article: Uncovering Spotty Coverage in LA

More companies have begun to use that enticing yet vague number in their products. The iPhone 4S may have the number four in its name, but Apple admits it’s actually a 3G phone.

“The inside of the iPhone, as beautiful as it is, is still a Toyota; it’s not reaching those Maserati speeds,” said Harvey Rosenfield, a consumer advocate from Consumer Watchdog.

AT&T customer and iPhone owner Steven Meyer said the company charged him with a 4G upgrade plan, but he was disappointed to find out the iPhone didn’t have 4G capability.

“I am not sure it is a fair representation of the service level,” Meyer said.

Apple said the iPhone 4S is a 3G phone, but it still has enhancements that make it possible to reach 4G speeds depending on the carriers’ service. Carriers advertise their 4G service under different names such as: HSPA+, LTE, or WiMax.

Many handheld devices can be called 4G now because of an ITU ruling. The agency said in order for the device to be considered 4G, it must provide a substantial level of improvement in performance compared to the 3G speeds.

John Jackson, a mobile technology analyst, said the operators are doing what the regulatory body lets them do.

“They’re marketing to you and you shouldn’t be surprised by that,” Jackson told NBC 4.

Rosenfield believes the federal government needs to step in.

Consumer Watchdog is planning to file a complaint with the FCC demanding clear definitions consumers can understand.

“Federal Communications Commission has been a bureaucracy that’s pretty much devoted to protecting the cell phone industry,” said Rosenfield.

Last month, Australian regulators fined Apple $2.2 million for “deliberately misleading” consumers about the 4G capability of its latest iPad with their local carriers.

Apple offered a refund and has changed its 4G advertising for its Australian customers.

If you have something you’d like Ana Garcia and her team to investigate, call them at 818-520-TIPS or email GetGarcia@nbcuni.com

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