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.

Here’s Verizon’s full-page newspaper ad that throws shade at AT&T

Verizon logo

AT&T ruffled a few feathers when it weirdly decided to brand portions of its existing 4G LTE network as “5G Evolution.” In response to AT&T’s antics, Verizon took out full-page ads in The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today.

The letter suggests that Verizon won’t conduct the same misleading marketing that AT&T is guilty of. That said, Verizon is far from innocent. In October 2018, Big Red boasted about beating everyone to the punch with its commercial 5G service. The problem is that the service used a Verizon-created 5G standard instead of the global 5G standard.

Oh, and the service isn’t mobile — it’s a home internet service only available in select markets.

You can read Verizon’s full-page newspaper ad below and reach your own conclusion.

Everything is about to change. Breakthroughs in connectivity, artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, augmented reality, autonomous vehicles, wearables and the Internet of Things (IoT) will all impact our lives in ways we can’t imagine. Underpinning these technological advancements is 5G.

The potential for 5G is awesome, but the potential to over-hype and under-deliver on the 5G promise is a temptation that the wireless industry must resist. If network providers, equipment manufacturers, handset makers, app developers, and others in the wireless ecosystem engage in behavior designed to purposefully confuse consumers, public officials and the investment community about what 5G really is, we risk alienating the very people we want most to join in developing and harnessing this exciting new technology.

That’s why we’re calling on the broad wireless industry to commit to labeling something 5G only if new device hardware is connecting to the network using new radio technology to deliver new capabilities. 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.

Doing so would break an enduring and simple promise we’ve made to our customers: That each new wireless generation makes new things possible.

It is this belief that led us to bring together key device, chip and network equipment manufacturing partners to create the 5G Technology Forum with the goal of developing global 5G standards more quickly. The result was a commercial 5G offering a full two years ahead of original estimates. It’s why we’re committed to build the first 5G Ultra Wideband network. It is the reason we opened 5G Labs to support entrepreneurs and innovators as they build the 5G applications that will change how we live, work and play. And it’s the motivating factor behind our sponsorship of 5G development challenges focused on education, public safety, robotics and other critical areas where 5G can impact lives today and tomorrow.

We lead by example. And we challenge our competitors, vendors and partners to join us. People need a clear, consistent and simple understanding of 5G so they are able to compare services, plans and products, without having to maneuver through marketing double-speak or technical specifications.

Our industry knows 5G will change the world. Let’s uphold that promise, while maintaining our integrity. The success of the 5G technological revolution must be measured in truth and fact, not marketing hype.

NEXT: What about 9G? T-Mobile ridicules AT&T for using fake 5G logo on 4G phones

5G has arrived – here’s what you can expect from AT&T

AT&T

AT&T’s plans for 5G are somewhat confusing at first glance, as the company talks about at least four current and upcoming 5G-related services. At the forefront are 5G Evolution and Mobile 5G, mobile services offering different connection speeds. AT&T also promotes LTE-LAA connectivity for 1Gbps downloads along with an upcoming in-home fixed wireless service.

Of the big three, AT&T’s puzzle pieces were harder to put together. In comparison, T-Mobile is more black-and-white, taking a simpler approach to its public 5G rollout plans. Simply put, T-Mobile is focusing on a long-range nationwide 5G service first followed by an in-home fixed wireless service at a later date. Its short-range service using millimeter waves will open shop in specific markets at the end of 2018 and into 2019 as devices hit the market. Full nationwide coverage isn’t expected to become available until 2020.

Meanwhile, Verizon is rolling out a 5G-based fixed in-home service first based on a proprietary 5G TF network standard. Customers now signing on are coined as “First on 5G” members and will see free equipment upgrades when models based on the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) 5G NR standard arrive. Verizon also plans to launch a mobile 5G service six months after the full launch of its fixed in-home solution.

Related:

For AT&T, we broke down the AT&T 5G rollout into four confusion-free sections. Take a look:

AT&T Shutterstock

AT&T 5G Evolution

This isn’t AT&T’s real 5G network, instead serving as the foundation for the true AT&T 5G service that will arrive later. This platform only provides theoretical peak wireless speeds of up to 400Mbps for compatible devices. Think of it as an “evolving” 4.5G platform (or ramp) that will eventually give way to a full-blow AT&T 5G service.

According to AT&T, this 5G Evolution platform consists of upgraded cell towers and new small cell networks powered by LTE Advanced technology, such as three-way carrier aggregation, 4 x 4 MIMO antenna setups and 256-QAM modulation. The company is also using software-defined networking, artificial intelligence and more to increase data transmissions over the current 4G LTE speeds.

Rollout schedule

5G Evolution launched on April 25, 2017 in select areas of Austin, Texas. AT&T expanded this platform to more than 400 markets in 2018 and expects to provide nationwide coverage for more than 200 million customers in the first half of 2019.

Here’s a map of the 2018-2019 planned coverage.

Plans and prices

Because 5G Evolution is a back-end upgrade to AT&T’s 4G LTE service supported by newer phones, AT&T doesn’t provide new plans or pricing.

Mobile 5G

This is the true AT&T 5G service for mobile devices, based on the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) 5G New Radio standard.

AT&T says it’s currently establishing small cell networks in mid-size and big cities to transmit AT&T 5G coverage “in pockets of dense areas.” Because millimeter waves can’t easily penetrate buildings and other obstacles, and are absorbed by plants and rain, AT&T is strategically placing these small cells throughout the cities to provide the best reception. These small cells can mount on streetlights, utility poles, and more.

Connecting the company’s wireless towers and small cells are “millions of miles” of fiber optic cables already feeding gigabit internet to more than nine million locations. AT&T is still expanding this wired network, shooting to reach 14 million locations by the middle of 2019.

For urban, suburban, and rural areas, AT&T says it will rely on its claimed mid- and low-band spectrum although the company doesn’t provide any specifics.

Spectrum

For now, the mobile AT&T 5G network primarily uses millimeter waves on the 39GHz band, but it will also shift small portions of its low-band spectrum to support its true 5G service. AT&T says more spectrum will be allocated from its 4G service to 5G as devices emerge and customer demand for 5G connectivity increases.

AT&T controls a combined 145 MHz of the sub-3GHz spectrum in North America. It also has access to a nationwide 20MHz block of the 700MHz spectrum held by FirstNet. Whatever is not currently in use by the Nationwide Public Safety Broadband Network can be utilized by AT&T when needed. Here are the claimed spectrums:

Low-band

  • 700MHz (BC and DE)
  • 850MHz (Cellular)

Mid-band

  • Personal Communications Service (PCS) in the 1,900 MHz range.
  • Advanced Wireless Services (AWS) in the 1,700 MHz (uplink) and 2,100 MHz (downlink) ranges.

High-band

  • Wireless Communication Services (WCS) in the 2,300 MHz range.

Rollout plans

AT&T’s Mobile 5G service is currently available in Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Raleigh, San Antonio, and Waco.

By early 2019, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Nashville, Orlando, San Diego, San Francisco, and San Jose will support AT&T’s true 5G connectivity as well.

Plans and prices

For now, AT&T is not providing this information.

Other things we know

AT&T said in April its test in Waco, Texas provided a transmission speed of 1.2Gbps when standing more than 492 feet away from the source cell site using millimeter waves and the 400MHz channel. Latency rates were between nine and 12 milliseconds. The test, conducted at a retail location, supported “hundreds of simultaneous connected users.” Another test in Michigan saw speeds of more than 1Gbps across 900 feet.

AT&T CEO Andre Fuetch said in a recent conference call that every radio in the sub-6GHz range deployed since early 2018 will support 5G connectivity through a firmware upgrade.

Here is AT&T’s current list of compatible phones for both 5G Evolution and Mobile 5G:

Android

  • LG V35 ThinQ
  • LG V40 ThinQ
  • Motorola Z2 Force Edition
  • Samsung Galaxy S8 Series
  • Samsung Galaxy S9 Series
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 8
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 9

iOS

  • iPhone 8 Series
  • iPhone X
  • iPhone XS
  • iPhone XS Max
  • iPhone XR

LTE-LAA

Part of AT&T’s Mobile 5G plans include LTE Licensed Assisted Access. According to Qualcomm, this technology is part of LTE Advanced Pro, which enables Gigabit LTE, voice services, private networking, and more. LTE-LAA combines a licensed LTE band with the unlicensed 5GHz spectrum used by networking routers. Combined, download peak theoretical wireless speeds reach up to 1Gbps, but AT&T’s use of the unlicensed spectrum shouldn’t interrupt or degrade in-home wireless networking.

“Fair Wi-Fi coexistence is a key principle in LAA,” Says Qualcomm’s website.

“This is accomplished by dynamically selecting clear channels in 5 GHz to avoid Wi-Fi users. If there is no clear channel available, LAA will share a channel fairly with others. This is accomplished by a feature called Listen Before Talk (LBT). LBT will be used by all technologies in unlicensed spectrum to ensure fair coexistence globally.”

Rollout plans

As of October, LTE-LAA is in use in parts of 20 cities. At least 24 cities will provide this connectivity by the end of 2018. Cities currently on the list include Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Little Rock, Los Angeles, McAllen, Sacramento, San Antonio, San Francisco, San Jose, Tampa Tuscaloosa, and several others.

Other things we know

The first commercial LTE-LAA service made its debut in select downtown areas of Indianapolis in November 2017.

Todd Kravos

Fixed Wireless

AT&T plans to launch a fixed 5G wireless broadband service for home use and the enterprise in U.S. cities in late 2019. It will be based on Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) networking technology accessing 150MHz of the 3.5GHz band. Samsung will provide the CBRS-based radios and base station equipment while. CommScope will supply the Spectrum Access System. Testing won’t begin until early 2019.

“CBRS is an innovative spectrum band which allows both licensed and shared access that helps enable efficient use of finite spectrum resources,” AT&T said in a press release. “As part of the rollout, we will start by using LTE in CBRS Spectrum and then migrate to 5G.”

In contrast, Verizon’s 5G plans are the exact opposite, as it’s now rolling out a fixed 5G wireless service first followed by mobile 5G connectivity in 2019.

FCC disappointed with US carriers’ response to Hurricane Michael

  • FCC chairman Ajit Pai is not thrilled with the U.S. carriers’ slow restoration of their service in areas affected by Hurricane Michael.
  • Florida governor Rick Scott specifically called out Verizon for misleading customers with its network restoration progress.
  • All four major U.S. carriers offer bill credits, free service, or waived overage fees to customers in affected areas.

Even though Hurricane Michael is now a memory, its effects are still being met as the death toll continues to climb and power continues to be nonexistent in many neighborhoods. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint experienced network outages of their own and continue to increase efforts to restore their networks. However, those efforts might not be enough to satisfy the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

In a recent statement, FCC chairman Ajit Pai slammed U.S. carriers for their slow efforts to restore service in areas affected by Hurricane Michael. Pai called the lack of full cellular service “completely unacceptable” and said the FCC will open an investigation into each of the carrier’s post-hurricane restoration efforts.

Pai also called on U.S. carriers to waive the bills of Florida residents in affected areas for October. Pai did not name any carriers in his statement, but we can guess that at least the four major carriers are the target of his wrath.

In a statement of his own, Florida governor Rick Scott specifically criticized Verizon and said the carrier misled the public with the statistic that 98 percent of Florida has service. Pai and Scott called for carriers to not penalize Florida residents who want to switch carriers in the wake of Hurricane Michael.

The carriers respond

In an email, Verizon said it will offer three months of free service to “every Verizon customer in Bay and Gulf counties.” On its network update page, Verizon also mentioned that it brought two new cell sites in service overnight and will deploy a new mobile cell site today. The carrier also set up two new charging stations for local shelters, but did not say when it expects to fully restore service.

Editor’s Pick

AT&T, meanwhile, said it offers bill credits to customers in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gulf, Liberty, Taylor, and Wakulla counties. AT&T will continue to offer credits through October 21 and said service is “nearly fully restored in most affected areas.” AT&T also did not say when it expects to completely restore service.

On its Hurricane Michael update page, T-Mobile said service in North Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia are “almost fully recovered.” However, sites on the Florida Panhandle “will likely experience a longer recovery timeline.” T-Mobile did not provide that timeline on the website, though it offers certain Florida and George residents free calling, texting, and data if they are not already on an unlimited plan and are active postpaid or prepaid customers.

Finally, Sprint said it will waive call, text, and data overage fees between October 10 and October 18. The carrier also announced it provides 25 handsets and/or hotspots to any state or local government agency impacted by Hurricane Michael. Sprint did not say what progress on service restoration currently looks like, however.