March 08, 2012, 9:30 AM — The iOS 5.1 update, released Wednesday amid a slew of product announcements from Apple includes a small slate of fixes and improvements, a handful of new features, and—for some AT&T subscribers, at least—a new 4G cellular service label in the status bar.
It's that new cellular service label that's causing the most confusion (and, in some cases, amusement) for AT&T's iPhone 4S customers.
With any iPhone, when you're on a Wi-Fi network, you only see your carrier's name and the number of bars of service available. Disconnect from Wi-Fi, and the Wi-Fi signal spot is instead used to show the network type you're currently connected to. Starting with iOS 5.1, where AT&T iPhone 4S customers used to see the 3G label, they now see 4G instead. (The stalwart 3G label remains in place on earlier iPhone models, including the iPhone 4, and iPhones on other networks like Sprint and Verizon.)
While an iOS update could, theoretically, make under-the-hood improvements to facilitate slightly faster cellular data speeds, obviously no software update will affect your iPhone's built-in antennae. So what prompted the 3G to 4G change for the AT&T iPhone 4S, and what exactly does it mean?