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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Filed Under: 5g, 5g evolution, john noovan, lies, wireless
Companies: at&t


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  1. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 15 Jan 2019 @ 5:47am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    Bamboo Harvester (profile), 15 Jan 2019 @ 6:33am

    But it worked before...

    ...apparently, AT&T made the same exact move before 4G was implemented - their 3G phones suddenly said "4G E".

    Fool me once...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2019 @ 7:07am

    Re: But it worked before...

    If only state actors didn't have the protection of a corrupt government protecting them from their actions.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2019 @ 7:29am

    Re: The emperor's new gaslit clothes

    Feel free to redefine things to suit your whims

    "Re"define? I've yet to hear any of these companies tell us what "5G" actually is, apart from a few messianic prophecies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    PaulT (profile), 15 Jan 2019 @ 7:32am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Anonmylous, 15 Jan 2019 @ 7:53am

    Selling the future for profit today

    Let's see how funny AT&T shareholders think it is later this year when Verizon and others get to advertise "We have REAL 5G and the speeds it promised, unlike certain competitors."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Pixelation, 15 Jan 2019 @ 8:03am

    Umm

    "if I have now occupied beachfront real estate in my competitors' heads, that makes me smile."

    You haven't occupied beachfront property. You have occupied property a mile from the water, thrown some sand on the lawn and called it beachfront.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2019 @ 8:09am

    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).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    James Burkhardt (profile), 15 Jan 2019 @ 8:28am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    PaulT (profile), 15 Jan 2019 @ 8:38am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2019 @ 8:44am

    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."

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    James Burkhardt (profile), 15 Jan 2019 @ 8:49am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    norahc (profile), 15 Jan 2019 @ 9:24am

    Re: Umm

    "Umm
    "if I have now occupied beachfront real estate in my competitors' heads, that makes me smile."

    You haven't occupied beachfront property. You have occupied property a mile from the water, thrown some sand on the lawn and called it beachfront."

    More likely it's a port-a-pot with sand on the floor.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 15 Jan 2019 @ 9:35am

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

    It sounds more like they are creating a religion. It has many of the same characteristics, and expects others to accept things on faith.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 15 Jan 2019 @ 9:58am

    Label wars

    See how funny they think it is when, next month, Veriz-Mobile puts out phones saying, "6G E" and starts crowing about ATTs antiquated technology.

    After all, if it's only just the label that matters...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2019 @ 10:00am

    Re: Label wars

    But T-Mobile already beat both of them to "9G", so it would be a race to second place.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2019 @ 10:04am

    That Donovan Smiles at Shit IS NOT News

    "...if I have now occupied beachfront real estate in my competitors' heads, that makes me smile."

    None of AT&T's competitors envies the occupation of a beach with sewage outfalls.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 15 Jan 2019 @ 10:04am

    Re: Re: Label wars

    At "18G" our phone is twice as good.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    UniKyrn (profile), 15 Jan 2019 @ 10:08am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    John85851 (profile), 15 Jan 2019 @ 10:12am

    Re: Re: Re: Label wars

    Well our company has Infinity G, which is infinitely better. We just slapped the infinity symbol on the phone and everyone gets an instant upgrade.

    And no calling "infinity +1".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. icon
    Thad (profile), 15 Jan 2019 @ 10:15am

    Re: That Donovan Smiles at Shit IS NOT News

    "There's no such thing as bad publicity!" - Somebody who definitely didn't have any investment in The Weinstein Company

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. icon
    Michael Long (profile), 15 Jan 2019 @ 10:43am

    Re: The emperor's new gaslit clothes

    Donald???

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 15 Jan 2019 @ 11:24am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Label wars

    But what about our "Ultimate G"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2019 @ 2:28pm

    So why not just do what they (or maybe some other carrier, can’t remember) did and call it 4.5g. Still gives you the narrative without making it outright lies.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. icon
    stderric (profile), 15 Jan 2019 @ 4:16pm

    Re: Re: Re: 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".

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2019 @ 9:09pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: 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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2019 @ 2:30am

    Beachfront

    In other news, Donovan has announced a new housing community outside of Phoenix and is taking bids for sand deliveries now. Get your own Beachfront property before all the sand is gone!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Todd, 16 Jan 2019 @ 2:36pm

    Re: Re:

    Well, yes, and no...

    The SEC should look into this matter, as deliberate stock price manipulation!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. icon
    Babasyzygy (profile), 16 Jan 2019 @ 2:46pm

    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!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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