AT&T slammed for misleading customers about 5G roll-out

8 Jan 2019

AT&T logo on a building exterior wall. Image: Mike Mozart/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

A recent update sees some AT&T phones display a 5G E icon – but they are still running on a 4G network.

AT&T has come under fire for updating three smartphones from Samsung and LG to make them display 5G connectivity logos, despite none of the models being capable of connecting to a 5G network.

The logo displayed on the top left-hand corner of the screen reads ‘5G E’, with the ‘E’ intended to tip users off that the connection is not, in fact, genuinely 5G. It stands for ‘5G Evolution’, which still does not make clear that the connection is not the latest generation.

A branding exercise

AT&T has chosen to brand parts of its LTE network as ‘5G Evolution’. These parts have benefited from upgrades to boost speed and are said to be faster than standard LTE, but it is by no means a 5G network. Engadget reports that the 4G LTE upgrade uses a mixture of technologies, including 4 by 4 MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) antennas, 256 QAM (quadrature amplitude modulation) and carrier aggregation.

According to The Verge, AT&T is actually lagging behind other US networks in the development of the new standard. The technology behind the LTE speed boost is already deployed by Verizon and T-Mobile. AT&T is set to roll out this branding change to more phones and markets throughout 2019.

Critics deem move manipulative

Many critics say it is unfair to use a symbol that implies a speed from a network standard that is still in development, noting that many customers will be confused at the lack of increased speed despite the information displayed on their device.

T-Mobile’s Twitter account poked fun at the move by AT&T, but it is also guilty of similar marketing ploys. In 2010, it stated it had “America’s largest 4G network”, despite not offering one at the time.

AT&T’s genuine 5G network is already in operation in select US cities, but a compatible phone is required. The high speed and low latency of the next generation of cellular technology is not likely to be widely available until 2020, but expect to see smaller developments and roll-outs throughout this year.

AT&T logo on a building exterior wall. Image: Mike Mozart/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects