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: 5g, 5ge, fake 5g, iphone, marketing, mobile data
Companies: apple, at&t


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2019 @ 7:05am

    Ajit Pai will not last forever and unfair competition practices like that along withe the shamelessly gleeful responses to criticism could result in antitrust action once Ajit Pai is finally out of the FCC. Seems AT&T didn't learn anything from Ma Bell's breakup so many decades ago.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2019 @ 7:17am

      Re:

      Sure they did. They learned that in just a few short years, you can, in fact, put Humpty Dumpty back together, and make more money than ever.

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

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 7 Feb 2019 @ 8:05am

      Re:

      I'm not sure if this falls under the FCC's purview. This looks like deceptive trade practices to me; might this be the rare case where "the FTC should handle this, not the FCC" is actually a correct statement?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2019 @ 7:07am

    Ajit Pai will not last forever and unfair competition practices like that along with the shamelessly gleeful responses to criticism could result in antitrust action once Ajit Pai is finally out of the FCC. Seems AT&T didn't learn anything from Ma Bell's breakup so many decades ago.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2019 @ 7:15am

    What is news worthy about AT&T running another cheating lying scam?

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

  • icon
    Jinxed Violynne (profile), 7 Feb 2019 @ 7:22am

    It's unlikely the majority consumer base gives two cares of "4G" vs. "5G".

    To them, so long as it works, they're fine with it.

    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.

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

    • icon
      Mason Wheeler (profile), 7 Feb 2019 @ 7:44am

      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.)

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2019 @ 8:05am

      Re:

      Even when it makes no diff to the consumer, the industry needs to be honest. Lying about your product/service is fraud. Law enforcement has an obligation to pursue violators without regard for social status or wealth. Let's not give them any excuses.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2019 @ 7:48am

    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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2019 @ 7:56am

      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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2019 @ 7:53am

    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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2019 @ 11:41am

      Re: Short term thinking

      Apple doesn't have to worry about this; the upgrade will come with their new phones, that now have upgraded tech over the older phones.

      Since Apple doesn't tend to sell their phones based on network speed, the marketing will be easy. It's a new phone! It has things the old ones don't!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2019 @ 8:52am

    How about this:

    My new phone service will offer "5G Awesome" which is clearly better than "5G Evolution" and just as meaningful in terms of what it actually offers.

    What now, AT&T?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2019 @ 9:44am

    I wish Apple wasn't going to do this. I'm going to assume AT&T is demanding this from Apple. If you want to be certified to be used on OUR network, you have to support our fake 5GE B.S. type of thing.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2019 @ 11:37am

    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.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 8 Feb 2019 @ 8:45am

      Re:

      The thing is, while the 5G spec does deliver modest evolutionary improvements

      Wait, you've seen a spec? Please share, 'cause so far nobody's been able to explain what "5G" actually is.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2019 @ 10:53pm

    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".

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

  • identicon
    Riders on the storm, 8 Feb 2019 @ 9:46am

    ..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.

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

  • identicon
    Luke A, 9 Feb 2019 @ 12:27am

    $70 for 15 gigs?

    F**k that.

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


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