AT&T Admits To Purposefully Capping Uploads On Atrix, Inspire

One of the persistent criticisms of the Motorola Atrix and HTC Inspire is that the devices don't deliver anything like the wireless speeds AT&T claims they're capable of. AT&T has been coyly playing cat and mouse over the question of whether or not its phones consistently deliver "4G" speeds but has finally admitted that it had capped the phones' upload speeds. An April update to remove the limitation is currently in the works.

One of the major problems of communicating such differences and limitations is that there's no industry-standard definition on what 4G is (or isn't).  Service providers are allowed to use the "4G" designation provided that the next-generation service offers "substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities" over 3G. This definition helps shield cellular service providers from attack by allowing them to demonstrate that their "4G" networks were faster than their 3G counterparts even if AT&T's 4G is comparatively faster than, say, Verizon's 4G.

AT&T's first response to consumer complaints was to declare that the Atrix and Inspire didn't support the HSUPA (High Speed Uplink Packet Access) protocol. When irate owners took their complaints to the Better Business Bureau, AT&T changed its tune, writing:
(user) complains that the recently released Motorola Atrix does not offer speeds anywhere near what advertised speeds claim. He is requesting activation of 4G services and removal of the cap on the Motorola Atrix services. Account research regarding this complaint shows that AT&T is focused on delivering a wide choice of solutions and the best possible Smartphone experience to our customers. Be assured that AT&T has not "capped" the upload speeds on the ATRIX. The ATRIX is a HSUPA-capable device, and we currently are performing the testing and preparations necessary to ensure that, when we turn this feature on, you will continue to have a world class experience.

The Atrix should be eating up the sales charts right now thanks to its versatile dock and solid hardware specs. Instead it's 4G capabilities are disabled and the dock platform costs as much as a full laptop

Consumer complaints of this sort will almost certainly rise as more 4G phones become available. With its iPhone monopoly gone, AT&T's best move is to aggressively romance the iPhone users and other customers it has left. Selling the Atrix and Inspire on the basis of features that customers can't actually use is precisely the sort of bait-and-switch that so enraged iPhone customers who found that the unlimited 3G data plans they paid for were useless due to network outages and insufficient bandwidth. AT&T, meanwhile, is playing a dangerous game. Customers who purchase a device that advertises 4G functionality have a right to expect such speeds when they're in appropriate geographical areas—the longer AT&T waits on this, the more likely it is that they'll be sued for deceptive marketing.