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The 4G ad wars: Evaluating AT&T and Verizon Wireless

Why nobody cares if 'My 4G is bigger than yours'

By , Network World
November 19, 2012 11:36 AM ET

Network World - Wireless carriers are battling in print, TV and Web commercials that focus on having the biggest 4G network or the most 4G coverage. All these commercials create a phony issue that doesn't relate to the actual reasons for choosing 4G service or choosing a given carrier to provide it.

We looked at two TV ads, from AT&T and Verizon Wireless, posted on their YouTube accounts.

Who really has the most 4G wireless coverage?

Performance and pricing determine the "4G experience"

The AT&T commercial consists of nearly 30 seconds of listening to the monotonous guitar hammering of "Memory Lane" by Eddy Current Suppression Ring and watching a young Dude appearing in about 40 different locations, with not quite that many girls, and with his trusty AT&T smartphone. He talks, laughs, smiles, walks, lies on a beach, looks at stuff, texts, takes photos of himself with one or another of the girls, and stuff like that.

At the end, and 30 seconds rarely has felt so long, the voice-over says, "AT&T. The nation's largest 4G network, covering 2,000 more 4G cities than Verizon."

Or as the YouTube text helpfully elaborates, "This spot follows our main character as he uses his AT&T smartphone throughout his adventures across the states. He chronicles his travels and shares his memories and experiences with the people he cares about thanks to AT&T, the nation's largest 4G network."

The concept of the "nation's largest 4G network" is a key message for AT&T. The carrier arrives at "largest" by adding together cities covered by two different cellular technologies, both of which AT&T labels 4G: LTE, in 103 cities at this writing, and HSPA+, which covers a whole lot more.

AT&T's website distinguishes between the two. 4G LTE represents the "fastest mobile Internet speeds," whereas "4G Mobile Broadband" is the carrier's "4G HSPA+ network with enhanced backhaul. AT&T's 4G HSPA+ network is capable of delivering 4G speeds when combined with enhanced backhaul."

Apparently our Dude in the TV commercial is On the Road, an epic journey of exploration and discovery. Who is this guy? He's young. A casual dresser. He laughs a lot. His one obvious flaw is that he favors clear plastic parasols on rainy days. Perhaps he's a successful high-tech entrepreneur who's cashed out on some esoteric Web technology and retired at what looks like about 26 or so, and with time to kill and money to spend, decides to have adventures across the states. All 50 of them it seems. Maybe he's decided to visit the "2,000 more 4G cities than Verizon" that AT&T covers with the nation's largest 4G network.

Verizon Wireless takes a less impressionistic approach: It focuses on, you know, facts. This commercial, called "Easy Choice," opens with the headline "4G LTE Focus Group," so we know the people we're about to see are "real" people.

It's a conference room, clean, well-ordered, spare. The Focus Group Guy (FGG) begins helpfully by telling us that 4G LTE "has the fastest speeds."

"So, let's talk about coverage," he says, getting right to The Point. We see an easel with a bar chart, labeled "U.S. Markets with 4G LTE Coverage." A humongous red bar -- Verizon! -- rears up from the x coordinate, towering above the shrimpy little LTE bars for AT&T, and Sprint and poor T-Mobile.

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