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AT&T Dragged By Rivals For Lying to Customers Over ‘5G’ Service

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AT&T’s plan to “update” its network for 5G service by changing the logo it displays on your phone, as opposed to changing anything about its underlying network performance, reliability, capability, or features, hasn’t won the company much support from its customers. Now, rivals like Verizon and T-Mobile are both getting in on the action as well, hammering the company for its decision.

For those of you that aren’t aware, AT&T has announced that it will begin displaying a “5G E” logo on certain Android devices in lieu of the standard LTE icon. The “E” is intended to stand for “Evolution” and will be displayed in areas where AT&T’s service conforms to certain advanced characteristics of 4G LTE service. The problem with this labeling is straightforward: While it’s true that there’s a technical path for 4G LTE service to evolve into 5G, that evolution hasn’t happened yet. AT&T’s “5G E” service is, therefore, nothing of the sort.

Verizon took the route of publishing a letter declaring “When we say ‘5G,’ we mean 5G.” Given the way Verizon has historically struggled to define words like “Unlimited,” or “privacy,” we can see why it went with this straightforward, clear statement. In its letter, Verizon writes:

That’s why we’re calling on the broad wireless industry to commit to labeling something 5G only if new device hardware is connecting to the network using new radio technology to deliver new capabilities. Verizon is making this commitment today: We won’t take an old phone and just change the software to turn the 4 in the status bar into a 5. We will not call our 4G network a 5G network if customers don’t experience a performance or capability upgrade that only 5G can deliver.

Doing so would break an enduring and simple promise we’ve made to our customers: That each new wireless generation makes new things possible. (Emphasis original)

T-Mobile, on the other hand, went for something a bit more irreverent / less subtle.

The bottom line is this: You can fairly accuse every single cell company of lying to customers at various points and in various ways. Every single one of these companies has been hauled into federal and state court and fined tens of millions of dollars at one point or another for misleading customers and failing to deliver promised service. I’m not going to claim there’s literally no difference between how AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon react in any given situation — obviously Verizon and T-Mobile have decided, at least for now, that AT&T’s lying to its customers is a bridge too far, even though Verizon has been accused of its own shenanigans where 5G is concerned. The larger point is that none of these firms have all that much ground to stand on when it comes to taking potshots at each other for treating customers poorly. Fair point.

At the same time, AT&T deserves to be dragged for this. “5G E” is not 5G service, regardless of what label AT&T slaps on its phones. Don’t be fooled. Certainly, don’t make plans to switch your network provider just because one company decided it was easier to misrepresent its network than to actually deploy the service it claims to offer.

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