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AT&T jumps the gun with deliberately misleading 5GE launch

The hype train for 5G, the next generation of technology that will power our mobile networks, has been gathering steam for a couple of years now. The potential benefits of 5G are enormous, but we’re only just working out precisely what it is. What we’re actually looking at here is a mix of technologies that encompasses three different spectrum bands, massive MIMO, beamforming, mmWave, and small cell base stations, among other things.

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The bottom line for the average phone owner is that you can expect much faster connection speeds, something that’s clearly desirable to many. Different carriers have different strategies for the 5G rollout to come, but unable to wait any longer and obviously keen to stay ahead of the competition, AT&T has jumped the gun. The stupendously annoying and deliberately misleading decision to launch 5G Evolution is only going to confuse people, because it’s simply not 5G.

5GE

Some very clever people have spent years now working out what the speed range of 5G will be, how the technologies will work together, and exactly what the label means, only for AT&T to blunder in and deliberately mislabel the latest 4G advances. That’s right. The marketing geniuses over at AT&T have decided to push out a 5GE logo onto phones that actually won’t support real 5G.

An icon indicates 5G E on a mobile phone
AT&T says the 5G E indicator in the top-right corner of this image depicts an advanced 4G LTE network. AT&T

What is 5G Evolution? It’s the latest update to 4G LTE. You’re looking at speeds of around 40Mbps, and it’s built entirely on 4G LTE technologies that other carriers are already using.

One of the saddest and most frustrating things about this is that we’ve been here before. A few years ago, T-Mobile decided to rebrand HSPA+, which was a faster 3G technology than it had deployed up to that point, as 4G. It claimed to have the biggest and best 4G network, when it was actually just an improved 3G network.

“… The moment … 5G devices show up, it’s a software upgrade to our network to enable our customers to move to 5G.”

AT&T, along with the rest of the mobile industry, condemned T-Mobile for muddying the 4G waters. But it wasn’t long before they followed suit – labelling their own 3G HSPA+ network as 4G. That meant that when actual 4G technology finally came along we had to call it 4G LTE, to differentiate and let people know that this was “real 4G”.

Ironically, T-Mobile was one of the first companies to ridicule AT&T over 5GE with a tweet that replaced the LTE logo on an iPhone with a “9G” logo, saying “didn’t realize it was this easy, brb updating.”

Joking aside, we won’t be too shocked if other carriers are now pressured into copying AT&T. Although Verizon has promised not to with full page ads in The New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal, which also appeared as a blog post by CTO Kyle Malady, talking about “behavior designed to purposefully confuse consumers,” and stating unequivocally:

“Verizon is making this commitment today: We won’t take an old phone and just change the software to turn the 4 in the status bar into a 5. We will not call our 4G network a 5G network if customers don’t experience a performance or capability upgrade that only 5G can deliver.”

didn’t realize it was this easy, brb updating pic.twitter.com/dCmnd6lspH

— T-Mobile (@TMobile) January 7, 2019

To add insult to injury, AT&T seems dead set on pushing forward with 5GE in the face of widespread criticism, and some people report that the 5GE logo has already popped up on their phones. There’s not a hint of contrition in recent interviews with AT&T execs.

“All of our investment in the infrastructure and hardware is all 5G ready, so the moment the 5G software and the 5G devices show up, it’s a software upgrade to our network to enable our customers to move to 5G,” AT&T’s Igal Elbaz, senior vice president for wireless technology, told Tom’s Guide.

What he fails to acknowledge is that the phones people have right now, that are displaying this 5GE logo, are not capable of working with real 5G technology. People will have to upgrade to a new smartphone with the right chips and antennas inside.

We’re not surprised that marketing departments pull this kind of crap, but it’s sad, because their barefaced mendacity will confuse a lot of people. It detracts from what should be an exciting new development for the mobile industry.

Simon Hill
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Simon Hill is an experienced technology journalist and editor who loves all things tech. He is currently the Associate Mobile…
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