Hey AT&T, stop lying to your customers about 5G

AT&T is at it again. A generation ago, AT&T began marketing 3G technologies as 4G in order to make up for its initial lack of 4G coverage. Fast forward to 2019 and AT&T is doing the same thing. The company is marketing LTE 4G as “5G E” on select Android devices in order to fool customers into thinking they’ve received some sort of upgrade. They haven’t.

This is pathetic, AT&T, and you should be ashamed. And yet somehow, you’re not.

AT&T’s 5G Evolution is simply rebranded LTE-Advanced. It relies on 256QAM, 4×4 MIMO, and three-way carrier aggregation to improve throughput and speeds on compatible devices. AT&T has increased the footprint of this LTE-A technology rapidly over the last year and it is now in more than 400 markets. That’s laudable, but 5G it ain’t.

AT&T coined the 5G Evolution marketing term in 2017. From Day One, the press has rightfully called out AT&T for its bogus and confusing nomenclature. This month AT&T took things to a new low: The company pushed a minor software update to nearly 20 different Android models. Those devices now show “5G E” in the status bar at the top of the screen instead of “4G LTE.”

Consumers who are paying attention know there is no technology improvement here, there’s no actual upgrade, they aren’t connecting to a real mobile 5G network. Not every consumer is as informed, and surely some believe their phones are magically faster. In other words, the change, which is a lie, may be confusing to some people.

AT&T doesn’t care.

Last week during the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, AT&T executives doubled-down on the lie.

Igal Elbaz, AT&T senior vice president for wireless technology, told Tom’s Guide, “What we’re trying to do is two things. One is to let the customer know that they are in an enhanced experience market or area. So we’re letting them know this on the device.”

When pushed about the misleading marketing, Elbaz replied, “Our customers will love it.” (Psst, Elbaz, as an AT&T customer I can tell you I’m not lovin’ it. In fact, quite the opposite.)

John Donovan, AT&T Communications CEO, also defended the lie saying, “We felt we had to give [customers] an indicator of when they getting twice traditional 4G speeds.” While LTE-A does provide faster speeds than LTE, it’s still 4G. Calling it anything else is just plain wrong.

AT&T defended the lie.

Eric Zeman

Why is AT&T lying like this? Perhaps the answer is perception. All the major networks are scurrying to launch mobile 5G as rapidly as possible. Each wants to scream “First!” like a 12 year old YouTube commenter.

In October, Verizon launched a non-standard, fixed 5G network in a handful of markets. This is specifically an in-home broadband replacement service. In December, AT&T launched standards-based 5G in a handful of markets. A single device, a $499 mobile hotspot, can access that mobile 5G service. Sprint and T-Mobile are still working on their 5G plans and expect to get things up and running by mid-year.

AT&T’s competitors lashed the company for its approach. Verizon took out a full-page ad bashing AT&T, while Sprint, and T-Mobile also derided the company.

What bugs me most about this is AT&T’s complete and utter disregard for the truth. The company is intentionally misleading its own customers. It makes me sick.

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