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Apple Helps AT&T Mislead Consumers With Fake 5G

Published: February 7, 2019
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Last month we noted how AT&T had pissed off competitors and consumers alike by pretending its existing fourth generation wireless network (4G) was actually 5G. More specifically, AT&T has been changing the "4G" icon on its customers phones to say "5G E," despite the fact that actual 5G service at scale is still probably several years away. Technically, AT&T simply took some of the improvements it recently added to its 4G networks (like better MIMO antennas and more efficient 256 QAM technologies), and decided to call this "5G Evolution" in a bid to pretend it was the first to launch actual 5G.

Over-hyping your product's capabilities and availability isn't a particularly bright idea, since you're only associating your brand and the 5G standard with disappointment. Despite being widely criticized for the practice, AT&T appears to have learned very little from the process, only responding by expressing glee at the amount of consternation created among consumers and competitors alike:

"Every company is guilty of building a narrative of how you want the world to work, and I love the fact that we broke our industry's narrative two days ago, and so they're frustrated and they're going to do what they do," Donovan said."

I think the result of last month, beating the industry out [with the 5G hotspot], and this 5G E launch a couple of days ago, our competitors are frustrated," Donovan said. "if I have now occupied beachfront real estate in my competitors' heads, that makes me smile."

The problem for AT&T is its launch of actual 5G was just as misleading. The company proclaimed it was the first carrier to "launch" 5G in 12 cities as of last December, but a closer examination finds the service is only available in a few areas, and at pricing that fails to impress ($500 for a mobile hotspot that's not widely available, $70 for just 15 GB of usage, plus network access fees).

Meanwhile, AT&T's seeing no real market or regulatory punishment for misleading customers about that fake 5G E label popping up on phones. The company had already made the change on Android, and last week Apple was happy to roll out an update that applied the inaccurate label on iPhones as well.

"Multiple users on Twitter are now reporting that they’re seeing the new 5G E icon on devices running the latest iOS 12.2 beta 2, which was released earlier today. The new icon isn’t there for everyone, presumably because it will only appear in cities where AT&T’s 5G Evolution network — the company’s intentionally misleading name for its LTE network that it seems to hope customers will confuse for actual, next-generation 5G networks — is active."

Nifty. Of course Apple isn't even planning to offer a real 5G-capable phone until at least 2020, so they similarly have an incentive to try and fool customers into thinking their phone has suddenly received an incredible new upgrade. Cumulatively there's a lot of companies busy overstating the availability and capability of a technology that, in reality, barely even exists. That's going to operate in the exact opposite way as it's intended, since it teaches customers to see 5G itself (which really does deliver some modest evolutionary improvements in both speed, reliability, and latency) as little more than another empty promise.

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