There’s a difference between AT&T’s 5G Evolution network (or 5G E) and the 5G network. Specifically, the difference is that 5G E is nothing more than a rebranding of their LTE Advanced Pro (LTE AP) network. It has nothing to do with AT&T’s upcoming, ultrafast 5G network.
If it sounds like AT&T is “blatantly misleading consumers,” Sprint CTO Dr. John Saw would agree with you. In fact, Sprint took AT&T to court for false advertising over the issue. However, on Monday, the two phone carriers settled the lawsuit for undisclosed terms. And it sounds like AT&T will continue to use the 5G E brand.
Evolution of What?
Shaw’s comments about AT&T came in January after newer devices were updated to read “5GE” rather than “LTE” at the top of the display. AT&T first announced the rebranding of the LTE AP network in 2017; it immediately received criticism from sites like The Verge.
The complaints continued until right before the announcement of AT&T’s settlement. Earlier in the day, Salesforce’s influential CEO Marc Benioff sent out a tweet with a picture of his display, noting that “my phone doesn’t have a 5G chipset but it reads 5G.”
Does mean I’m now on 5G in San Francisco with 10 Gigabits with super low latency? My phone doesn’t have a5G chipset but it reads 5G. I saw real 5G last week South Korea and it was astonishing. 100,000 antennas and 10,000 servers connected to a 5G core. Who knows the answer? pic.twitter.com/mtQtQ0VesI
— Marc Benioff (@Benioff) April 22, 2019
If the CEO of a tech company was fooled, you can imagine the confusion for the average consumer. As Business Insider points out: “Benioff’s tweet is a clear example that AT&T’s marketing works. It’s causing consumers to think they’re connected to a 5G network, when in fact they’re simply connected to their standard wireless network.”
Sticking With It
Despite settling the lawsuit, sources told CNET that the company was sticking with their 5G Evolution marketing. AT&T currently has a short explainer page for 5G E, along with a larger look at their overall “vision of what 5G will mean for you.”
On their website, AT&T says that 5G E is currently available in 400 markets, with coverage expanding to “the majority of all Americans” within the first half of 2019. The Verge reports that AT&T also presently has the largest 5G network in America, with service in 19 cities.
5G is Lagging
The problem is that AT&T can’t really brag about their 5G network. There aren’t currently any smartphones on the market that can access it. This didn’t stop the company from flexing: There are now 19 cities across the nation where AT&T is the only carrier to offer mobile 5G service to businesses and consumers, well ahead of our competition,” the company stated.
Cool story, bro. Meanwhile, their Netgear Nighthawk 5G hotspot is still only available to select partners. Basically, there’s not a lot to look forward to until 2020, when Qualcomm drops their processor with a built-in 5G modem. Analysts expect Apple to release a 5G iPhone in 2020 as well.
The takeaway here is that no matter the marketing, the U.S. still has to wait a little longer for 5G. Call it what you want, but 5G Evolution is more about advertising semantics than next-gen tech.