Apple Helps AT&T Mislead Consumers With Fake 5G

from the double-head-fake dept

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 are 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.

Filed Under: , , , , ,
Companies: apple, at&t

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Apple Helps AT&T Mislead Consumers With Fake 5G”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
28 Comments
Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Re: Re:

This article is no different than a company releasing a "new and improved" product, which is contradictory as it cannot be both new and improved.

Why not? It can be a new version of an older idea that improves upon it; I don’t see anything contradictory there. (Not to defend AT&T or anything; just as a general principle, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this claim.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Must have been the marketing people who came up with this silliness.

Reminds me of when the transistor radios first hit the market, manufacturers would claim to have more transistors in their product than the competition, implying that it was better.

Inspection of these radios revealed that some transistors were being used as diodes so they could jack up the count.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I’d say a closer approximation is "HD" in everythingc a few years ago.

That HD became a go-to marketing term for every single piece of tech out there. Even when the product never actually changed at all, they just changed the box.

Or the "digital transition" that cable went through a decade or so ago that only resulted in poor signals, expensive forced cable box purchases, and downgraded user experiences.

Anonymous Coward says:

Short term thinking

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.

Curious how Apple will spin their 2020 5G "upgrade" when many of their users already think they have 5G and it is just as slow and bothersome as LTS/4G was.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

The thing is, while the 5G spec does deliver modest evolutionary improvements, most of those will never be seen by anyone except those who use their 5G capable phones near one of the expensive hotspots (within line of sight) or outside in dense urban areas with 5G line of sight repeaters everywhere.

The rest of the improvements in the 5G spec are essentially things that can already be accomplished with LTE; they just aren’t required for LTE.

So what AT&T has done is taken those "nice to have" features in LTE that are required for 5G and re-branded them as 5G Evolution.

While this is extremely misleading, the truth is that for most use cases, 5G E will be indistinguishable from first generation 5G when it is finally rolls into broadcast and consumer hardware. The fact that it’s also indistinguishable from LTE (because that’s what it is) is something else to ponder.

Anonymous Coward says:

So: Yet-not-quite-really-even-4G is labeled as 5G again.

I am so surprised, in a world where it is uas been contemporarily popular to "make things happen" by simply declaring them to be so. Fait accompli!

It’s just too bad that burdensome regulations and a lack of mergers are holding back the high-quality telco R&D and deployment that would allow the US to be a world leader in 5G by executives and marketing departments simply declaring "nao we haz teh 5Gz".

Riders on the storm says:

..and in a related note...

"..and it wasn’t long after ATT’s 4G to 5G logo switcheroo that T-Mobile one-upped them by changing all their customers icons to 6G. Shocking the experts, Verizon beat Sprint by a hour to claim 7G supremacy, Tiny carrier Cincinnati Bell reigned world champion by lunchtime 312-G. In a surprising show of honest candor, ATT’s Donovan remarked, "We, as in all of us carriers, should have learned our lesson after Sprint’s latest investment after lunch in 232,567,555-G. We certainly did not see the effect of on the marketplace of Comcast announcing Xfinity Infinity G,and then MetroPCS betting the company on ‘Infinity Infinity Double Fingers Crossed Behind my Back but No-Backs Ninny-Ninny-Woo-Woo-G’, known now as IIDFCBmbNBnnww-G." It was during this interview in which Donovan’s phone chirped. The disconcerting look on is face told the story non-verbally, Memphis Municipal Communication had beaten them all with the well timed stock market closing announcment that they have moved past G,…into H. And a + version would be on your phone by dinner.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »