I’m extremely skeptical of the performance claims made by wireless carriers, and with good reason: as someone who works in downtown San Francisco, I’ve found wireless coverage around my office to be somewhere between problematic and unreliable. The Peninsula’s representative in Congress, Anna Eshoo (D-Palo Alto) introduced legislation today that would force mobile carriers, including AT&T, Sprint and Verizon, to disclose more information about their wireless data networks than they do now.
I don’t see how this could be a bad thing. Although carriers are infamous for using their coverage maps to bludgeon their competitors, it’s difficult for customers to get real information on just how well the various players in the mobile data market compare. Eshoo’s bill, the Next Generation Wireless Disclosure Act, would require carriers to provide consumers with minimum data speeds, network reliability and coverage, and the specific technology that provides their so-called “4G” service.
The last bit is a particular sticking point for me, as the “4G” term is tossed about without any regard for what it’s supposed to mean: according to the International Telecommunications Union, one of the defining characteristics of 4G service is a 100Mbps throughput threshold. Contrast this with the example of T-Mobile, which claims a “theoretical peak download speed” of 21Mbps, and you can see why my first reaction to the term “4G” is a barnyard epithet.
Of course, the industry lobbying group CTIA-The Wireless Association is opposed to any regulation of these claims, and instead calls for more spectrum to be allocated to wireless services. But as I like to point out, if businesses could be trusted to police themselves in the first place, government wouldn’t need to get involved. I’d suggest to CTIA that it require its carrier members to stop lying – yes, I’m going there – about the capabilities of their data networks, but I know that will never happen.