Telecom giant AT&T has moved forward with its bullshit plan to rebrand an enhanced version of its existing 4G mobile network as its much faster and still-in-development successor 5G, TechCrunch reported on Monday. After a recent update to some AT&T, the devices now say they are connected to a “5G E” network.
To be very clear, “5G E” is not a true 5G network. It is a branding term referring to “5G Evolution,” which as Gizmodo has previously reported, is a form of 4G LTE enhanced with features like 4X4 MIMO (which increases the number of antennas sending and receiving data) and 256 QAM (which increases the effective bandwidth of a single channel or signal). These techniques do allow for faster data transfer, but they are not 5G—which will eventually offer massively increased speed and AT&T has already rolled out in some cities, but currently only works with mobile hotspots as 5G phones are not yet on the market.
While some phones apparently have been using the “5G E” branding language since late last year, AT&T appears to be rolling it out to more devices now. TechCrunch wrote:
Right now only select phones in a few markets will see the change. The wireless carrier intends to roll out this madness to even more phones and even more markets throughout the year.
As noted in Gizmodo’s prior coverage:
One of the reasons AT&T is able to do this is partly because 5G is defined somewhat nebulously, with the “G” in 5G used to denote the evolution to fifth generation wireless networks. The true definition for 5G used by more carriers is based of the 5G NR standard, which specifies the use of a more advanced framework that includes mmWave radios and support for expanded frequencies to deliver speeds in excess of a gigabit per second.
AT&T has used the same tactic in the past, branding phones connected to an enhanced form of 3G (HSPA+) as 4G in 2012.
One reason AT&T may be doing this is to trick customers on current generation phones—that cannot be updated via software to support 5G, as new hardware is required—that they are already receiving the benefit of technology that isn’t available for widespread use (or reportedly even much faster than 4G) yet. Whether or not the “5G E” phones are really even receiving noticeably enhanced service is an open question; as the Verge noted, the advertised speeds aren’t much different from existing networks in major cities.
Another may be to blur the lines as AT&T proceeds with plans to raise prices for the 5G networks it is planning to roll out in the coming years. As CNET reported last month, AT&T told them that “5G brings capabilities that are going to cause us to think different about pricing. We expect pricing to be at a premium to what we charge today.”