Because the iPhone 4S is capable of 4G-like speeds on HSDPA networks, AT&T hopes to convince Apple to add a "4G" indicator to the handset's status bar.
The push, revealed in an internal memo leaked to The Verge, would allow AT&T to further differentiate itself from competitors Verizon and Sprint, which run CDMA networks and do not offer HSDPA connectivity. However, HSDPA also does not fall under the definition of "true" 4G.
The language of the memo seems to suggest that Apple is open to the idea, and even goes as far as to say that the change will arrive in the form of an update to iOS for AT&T iPhones.
"AT&T is working with Apple to update the network indicator for AT&T's iPhone 4S to read "4G," the memo reads. "This will happen with an iOS release from Apple. Since iPhone 4S is an HSDPA device, our customers will get 4G speeds from day one. Only AT&T has this unique network advantage."
A redesigned antenna that allows for faster HSDPA connections is one of the major features of the new iPhone 4S unveiled this week. However, at the company's keynote presentation, Apple executives did not outright declare that the iPhone 4S is a 4G phone.
While Apple has not yet gone as far as to call the iPhone 4S a "4G phone," U.S. carriers AT&T and T-Mobile have advertised their own HSPA+ networks as having "4G" speeds, even though they aren't true fourth-generation technology. AT&T is currently rolling out a true LTE 4G network in the U.S., and the carrier's proposed acquisition of T-Mobile would give it more spectrum to expand its coverage.
Apple executives this week went as far as to say that the iPhone 4S offers data speeds that are competitive with existing 4G networks.
AT&T's official coverage map shows HSPA+ "4G" available in a number of major metropolitan areas across the U.S., though the vast majority of the country receives either traditional 3G "mobile broadband," or even slower EDGE speeds. AT&T's 4G LTE network is available in a total of five cities.