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AT&T finally responds to uproar over its fake 5G label on 4G phones

Published Jan 9th, 2019 2:02PM EST
ATT 5G claims

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One day after Verizon took out a full-page ad in newspapers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal to subtly blast AT&T for an arguably shady 5G strategy, an executive from AT&T — which rivals say has essentially been trying to pass off 4G service as 5G — has pushed back against the criticism in a new interview.

Remember, AT&T doesn’t sell any 5G-compatible phones at the moment. It’s planning to replace the LTE indicator with a new 5GE symbol in markets that support the fastest LTE technology, something T-Mobile poked fun at in a recent funny video where they pretended to “upgrade” a phone to 9G by simply putting a 9G sticker on the device. Claiming, in other words, that that’s all AT&T is doing here. So, AT&T — what gives?

Well, Tom’s Guide decided to put that question directly to AT&T senior vice president for wireless technology Igal Elbaz. Is 5GE a misleading term, they asked him, given that it’s not actually based on 5G technology? Elbaz’s answer: “Out customers will love [5GE]. What we’re trying to do is let them know that there is an enhanced experience in their market.”

“We’ve been talking about 5G Evolution for a while now. We were pretty public about what we were doing and what we were deploying. 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. And there are close to 20 devices that support this.”

Carriers like Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon have all lined up to blast these moves from AT&T, with Verizon’s CTO slamming them as “designed to purposely confuse consumers.” In a blog post — which was also rerun in national newspapers as the full-page ad we mentioned, he noted that “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.”

A new report from ABI Research thinks 5G technology could very soon provide a shot in the arm for otherwise stagnant smartphone sales. AT&T has promised a 5G Samsung phone coming in a few months, and the company is also planning to turn AT&T Stadium in Dallas into a hotbed for 5G experimentation. Real 5G, Elbaz promises, will be a game-changer for everyone. But it’s too bad, AT&T’s rivals keep clamoring, that the company has been pretty misleading in this area so far.

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.