We don’t usually pay much attention to T-Mobile’s Twitter antics, but earlier today the carrier had a solid retort to some nonsense from AT&T. In response to AT&T updating a few different phones to show a “5G E” connectivity logo — despite being completely incapable of connecting to a 5G network — T-Mobile tweeted a short video of someone putting a sticky note reading “9G” on top of their iPhone’s LTE icon.
It’s a simple and dumb stunt. And it’s a completely fair metaphor for what AT&T is doing.
AT&T is updating three phones (Samsung’s Galaxy S8 Active and LG’s V30 and V40) to show this pseudo-5G icon when they’re connected to LTE networks that have received some speed-boosting updates. While it’s true that the connections may be slightly faster than a typical LTE connection, AT&T is still using definitively 4G technology and touts speeds completely typical of 4G. It’s all branding just meant to help AT&T get a head start in the race to 5G.
What makes it worse is that AT&T is branding speed-boosting LTE tech that it’s actually behind on rolling out. AT&T’s “5G Evolution” network is really just referring to LTE Advanced and Advanced Pro, a series of tech upgrades that other carriers have been rolling out for years. Verizon said over the summer that it had deployed the tech in 1,100 markets. T-Mobile said it was live in 920 markets in November of 2017. AT&T, by contrast, has “5G Evolution” in just under 400 markets. (The carriers, of course, may be measuring these things in different ways and have bickered about it in the past; but I haven’t seen a measurement where AT&T isn’t significantly behind.)
So effectively, yes, AT&T has just stuck a “5G” sticker over top of its phones’ LTE logo. It hasn’t improved anyone’s phone; and while AT&T has slightly improved its network, it isn’t offering anything the other big carriers haven’t already done.
Of course, the 5G marketing antics has just begun. T-Mobile itself was guilty of similar marketing nonsense back in 2010, when it claimed to have “America’s largest 4G network,” despite not having a 4G network. In fact, a large part of the reason we refer to 4G as LTE (the name of its technical standard) is because of all the bad marketing claims during the transition out of 3G. We’ll probably know soon whether 5G is headed in the same direction.