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During its developer conference at International CES 2011, AT&T joined T-Mobile US in marketing hijinks by rebranding its HSPA+ network as “4G”. Going into the last quarter of 2010, T-Mobile had previously launched a marketing campaign claiming its latest UMTS network, based on the HSPA+ protocol, was faster than the deployed 4G technologies and therefore the largest and fastest 4G network in the country.

Complicating matters further, AT&T detailed its 2011 “4G” roadmap with 5 to 7 new HSPA+ “4G” devices expected to launch during the first half of 2011, and 13 to 15 additional launching during the second half of this year (with an emphasis, but not necessarily exclusively, on LTE devices).

The operators’ claims have been lambasted by the technologists developing the standards and equipment. Those yet to be impacted are the subscribers that made decisions to switch providers, devices and budgets as a result of the campaigns. Do individuals care? I think so. On a taxi ride back to my hotel during CES, the driver asked what 3G and 4G meant. And what is the difference between the two?

Expect consumers and business decision-makers alike to become increasingly cynical as the marketing continues. Will we see Verizon Wireless, Sprint and US Cellular join these crafty marketers any time soon? Oh wait – those three operators along with Clearwire are actually deploying 4G networks!

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