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Even AT&T knows that its 5G E icon is misleading

Published Feb 19th, 2019 5:33PM EST
Image: Nortfoto/Shutterstock

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AT&T over the past few weeks has been on the receiving end of a lot of well-deserved criticism regarding its use of a 5G E symbol on phones that don’t actually support 5G. As you may recall, the 5G E symbol will appear on both Android and iOS devices that happen to be in areas with support for AT&T’s fastest LTE technologies.

The ‘E’ in 5G E stands for Evolution and is undeniably fast, with AT&T noting that 5G E enables “peak theoretical wireless speeds for capable devices of at least 400 megabits per second.” Is that impressive? Sure. But despite AT&T’s protestations, there’s no getting around the fact that the 5G E symbol is purposefully misleading to end users who might assume that they’re actually on a 5G network.

Funny enough, even AT&T — once you move past the PR boilerplate — seemingly knows this deep down. As noted by The Verge, AT&T today rolled out a new fact sheet which provides a nice little explanation about the company’s 5G efforts, including a list of cities that already have 5G support along with a list of cities where 5G support will roll out later this year.

What you won’t find in AT&T’s rather informative 5G fact sheet, however, is any mention of 5G E. Surely if AT&T is of the mind that 5G E is close enough to 5G as to warrant the 5G symbol, then why not mention it on the fact sheet itself? Oh right, because it might have something to do with AT&T trying to pull a fast one on unsuspecting consumers.

Many carriers are, not surprisingly, concerned with AT&T’s 5G E tactics, with Sprint launching a suit against AT&T earlier this month.

Sprint’s lawsuit reads in part:

The significance of AT&T’s deception cannot be overstated. Following years of tremendous growth in both the number of data users and in the amount of data being consumed, consumers are now demanding wireless service with faster speeds, lower latency (i.e., faster connectivity), and greater capacity (i.e., the ability to accommodate more users) than current 4G LTE wireless service can deliver. … By making the false claim that it is offering a 5G wireless network where it offers only a 4G LTE Advanced network, AT&T is attempting to secure an unfair advantage in the saturated wireless market.

AT&T, though, has no plans of backing down or reversing course even in the slightest. In a statement provided in the wake of Sprint’s lawsuit, an AT&T spokesperson said the following:

We understand why our competitors don’t like what we are doing, but our customers love it. We introduced 5G Evolution more than two years ago, clearly defining it as an evolutionary step to standards-based 5G. 5G Evolution and the 5GE indicator simply let customers know when their device is in an area where speeds up to twice as fast as standard LTE are available. That’s what 5G Evolution is, and we are delighted to deliver it to our customers.

We will fight this lawsuit while continuing to deploy 5G Evolution in addition to standards-based mobile 5G. Customers want and deserve to know when they are getting better speeds.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.

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