AT&T Execs Think It's Really Funny They Misled Consumers About 5G Availability

from the too-clever-by-half dept

So earlier this 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.

Competitors and consumers noticed.

Competitors like T-Mobile have been having fun making fun of AT&T’s head fake on Twitter:

Here’s where a normal company would acknowledge it had been overly creative and announce that in a bid to avoid confusing customers, it would walk back what was fairly obviously a bad, misleading idea. But that’s not how AT&T rolls. When pressed for comment, AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan decided instead to double down, and expressed glee at the level of consternation AT&T’s fake 5G created:

“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.

Except it’s not just AT&T’s competitors that are frustrated. Customers also think AT&T’s moves are misleading, something that harms AT&T since consumers are being trained to see AT&T’s 5G promises as horse shit at this juncture. Donovan though remained undaunted in his excitement over the confusion his marketing gambit sowed:

“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.”

Granted if you’ve watched AT&T mislead the press, public, and government on subjects like net neutrality or misleading billing, this is certainly well in character for the telecom giant. AT&T’s not likely to learn the underlying lesson here: instead of getting consumers excited about the real potential for 5G, they’ve fixated consumers and the press on the fact that AT&T’s promises surrounding this technology shouldn’t be believed.

Customers were already skeptical of wireless carrier claims given years of misleading coverage maps, and this sort of behavior will only support the belief that, for lack of a more technical term, the wireless sector is often aggressively full of shit.

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Companies: at&t

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Comments on “AT&T Execs Think It's Really Funny They Misled Consumers About 5G Availability”

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29 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

The emperor's new gaslit clothes

Seems they’ve been taking notes from the finest of conmen(or are said conmen taking notes from AT&T at this point?).

If your scam/lie gets exposed never admit fault, instead double-down on your lies, insist that it’s the other person in the wrong and project total confidence in your position/claims, with bonus points if you throw in some arrogance and/or condescension about how foolish the other person is for not ‘getting it’.

Feel free to redefine things to suit your whims, even better if you do so in such a way that it’s difficult if not impossible to call you out on your assertions.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: The emperor's new gaslit clothes

Well, that’s the beauty of it. They’re making all the comments now, before 5G has been officially defined. Once a proper definition has been reached, it will then be the fault of the people who came up with the final standard for not believing in their prophecies, not their fault for making shit up in the first place. Then, they con tin the marketing hype for whatever the next number they decide upon.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 The emperor's new gaslit clothes

So when do we start hanging the heretics?

/sarcasm

In all seriousness this is why regulations are needed. To prohibit scum bag companies like AT&T from trying to confuse and mislead the public for profit, and fine them close to bankruptcy if they choose to do so anyway.

And of course, Pai and his FCC will turn a blind eye to this just like everything else.

Anonymous Coward says:

AT&T doesn’t realize that what they did constitutes false advertisement? Something that is a violation of FEDERAL and STATE law? many states, if not the majority (or all states) have laws at the state level that make it a violation for misleading or false advertising something that was never truly available.

AT&T may have royally fucked up this time by advertising 5G when they clearly knew they didn’t have it. It results in new consumers buying into their services and may actually be a breach of STATE and FEDERAL law.

Target tried doing a bait and switch here in Michigan and I filed a complaint with the State of Michigan SAG office here in Michigan for pulling bait and switch advertising. It had to do with a Blu-ray they had advertised in one of their weekly ads. When I asked a store employee, I was told that Target had no intention of getting the Blu-ray version in the store but offered the DVD version instead. This is called “bait and switch” advertising.

Not only was it brought to the attention of the State of Michigan as to Target’s advertising practices, but Target ended up giving me the Blu-ray for free.

File complaints with your state’s SAG office, or the equivalent and wait for them to follow up with you. Additionally, file a complaint with federal authorities (whichever department or agency deals with matters like this) and file a complaint. I believe it’s the FTC (Federal Trade Commission).

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I think the core issue is 5G doesn’t a defined meaning. By jumping the gun, they are able to call some basic upgrades everyone else is treating as part of the standard 4G LTE growth, “5G”. It is a meaningless marketing term right now, so AT&T can claim it. No where in their marketing are they claiming these upgrades provide speeds above the competition. To compare, you suggest that AT&T is selling you the DVD and Calling it a blu-Ray, but in this case the word Blu-ray is meaningless, and there is no such thing as a Blu-ray on the market.

In the end, AT&T is selling you a data plan, with defined throughput, and is calling it 5G even though everyone else is calling it 4G. Since the term 5G has no definition in the market by the standard setting body, you can not say what is being marketed (the bait) is in fact not what is offered (The switch). The use of meaningless marketing terms has been long in use and not considered “bait and switch”, where you market a specific product and sell a different one. In this case, AT&T is marketing its product differently, but what it is marketing is in line with what is sold, at least as closely as the wireless market ever gets.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

“AT&T is selling you the DVD and Calling it a blu-Ray, but in this case the word Blu-ray is meaningless, and there is no such thing as a Blu-ray on the market”

Not even that, since Blu-Ray refers to a specific type of tech (HD-DVD and other competitors existed).

It’s more like they’re selling you a format that’s “high def”. As long as what they’re selling is better than the current standard in some way, they’re not technically lying, and they can use some kind of early adopter excuse when the eventual standard doesn’t cover what they offer.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

It’s more like they’re selling you a format that’s "high def".

Look at "HD radio" for something even better. It stands for "hybrid digital", though some people were known to misinterpret it as "high def" (it isn’t) and I don’t think that was a coincidence…

The relevant legal term is "puffery": "[a] term frequently used to denote the exaggerations reasonably to be expected of a seller as to the degree of quality of his product, the truth or falsity of which cannot be precisely determined."

stderric (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

The relevant legal term is "puffery": "[a] term frequently used to denote the exaggerations reasonably to be expected of a seller as to the degree of quality of his product, the truth or falsity of which cannot be precisely determined."

Little known fact: the term originated in the Faroe Islands, where street vendors were known to rip off tourists by selling low-grade seagull meat as "roasted auk".

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

In fact, they don’t even need to improve on the current standard. They explicitly aren’t improving on the standard, as their competitors are treating the same upgrade as the current standard.

AT&T is selling you a DVD standard update, calling it a blu-ray while admitting its just a Dual Layer DVD, but the blu-ray standard doesn’t exist, and everyone else is still just calling it DVD. But it doesn’t matter, because there is no Blu-ray standard that you can claim you were expecting to get.

UniKyrn (profile) says:

Another Tantrum & Threat

That was my nickname for them. These are probably the same execs that thought a time protocol with an accuracy of +/- 128ms, could be used for circuit testing using packets with a round-trip time of 1ns or less.

They knew it was a lie, but those tests get trotted out to prove a customer is getting their contractual bandwidth and latency.

Babasyzygy (profile) says:

They ought to be investigated by the SEC

You see, as a publicly traded company, they are not allowed to make such misleading claims… as they could affect the stock price, and thus make a bundle off of insider trading!

Sadly, the current administration is unlikely to pursue any such cases, unless they are against a company that has made it onto Trump’s Shit List!

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