AT&T Settles Lawsuit Over 'Fake 5G,' Won't Change A Thing
from the ill-communication dept
Big wireless carriers haven’t been exactly honest when it comes to the looming fifth-generation wireless standard (5G). Eager to use the improvements to charge higher rates and sell new gear, carriers and network vendors are dramatically over-hyping where the service is actually available, and what it can actually do. Some, like AT&T, have gone so far as to actively mislead customers by pretending that its existing 4G networks are actually 5G. AT&T took this to the next level recently by issuing phone updates that change the 4G icon to “5GE” on customer phones, despite the fact that actual 5G isn’t really available.
This isn’t just confusing consumers. Even Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff was misled this week by AT&T’s gambit:
Does mean I?m now on 5G in San Francisco with 10 Gigabits with super low latency? My phone doesn?t have a5G chipset but it reads 5G. I saw real 5G last week South Korea and it was astonishing. 100,000 antennas and 10,000 servers connected to a 5G core. Who knows the answer? pic.twitter.com/mtQtQ0VesI
— Marc Benioff (@Benioff) April 22, 2019
When AT&T has been called out for the misleading practice, it has only doubled down, with executives like AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan going so far as to say they were pleased by the consternation the head fake was causing:
“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.”
So far, consumers aren’t really smiling. Not only is AT&T’s 4G network being dressed up as 5G, its actual 5G is nothing to write home about. Critics have rightly noted that AT&T’s actual 5G footprint is negligible at best, device support is largely nonexistent, and the costs are nothing to cheer about. By and large these early deployments are little more than highly-limited marketing demos, and even then they’re not doing a very good job selling 5G as a meaningful connectivity revolution. At least not one worth the additional costs consumers are expected to pay.
Unsurprisingly, the FCC hasn’t much cared that AT&T’s misleading its customers by pretending 4G is 5G. Sprint, however, sued AT&T back in February, stating that by falsely claiming it was offering 5G, the company was using false advertising to leech away the company’s customers.
This week, that lawsuit was quietly settled without the companies involved providing any details whatsoever:
“AT&T and Sprint have settled a lawsuit over AT&T?s ?5G Evolution? branding, which Sprint claimed was fooling customers into believing its 4G LTE network was a full-fledged 5G network. ?We have amicably settled this matter,? an AT&T spokesperson told the Dallas Business Journal ? which cited anonymous sources saying that AT&T would keep using ?5G E? in its marketing material. AT&T and Sprint also confirmed its statement to The Verge.”
In other words AT&T either paid Sprint to shut them up, or Sprint just backed down for some unforeseen reason. Either way, insiders state that nothing will actually change at AT&T, and the company intends to continue pretending that its modestly-upgraded 4G network is actually 5G. Combined with a lot of the other availability misrepresentation these carriers are engaged in, they’re inadvertently teaching customers to associate 5G with empty promises and hype. Not a particularly solid ethical or marketing start for a technology these carriers proclaim will revolutionize the planet as part of the “fourth industrial revolution.”