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Verizon says it won’t launch fake 5G icons like AT&T did

Verizon says it won’t launch fake 5G icons like AT&T did


But it may have left itself some wiggle room

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Verizon says it won’t lie to customers about whether their phone is connected to a 5G network, as AT&T has essentially started to do. “We won’t take an old phone and just change the software to turn the 4 in the status bar into a 5,” writes Kyle Malady, Verizon’s chief technical officer, in a blog post that was also run as a full-page ad in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.

The promise comes right as AT&T has started to roll out updates doing exactly that: changing the “LTE” icon in the corner of select phones into an icon reading “5G E.” One might assume that a “5G E” connection is the same thing as a “5G” connection, but it’s not. AT&T is just pretending that the faster portions of its LTE network are 5G and is trying to get a head start on the 5G marketing race by branding it “5G Evolution.”

Verizon isn’t entirely innocent, and it may be leaving some wiggle room

T-Mobile isn’t happy about the marketing nonsense either. Its CTO, Neville Ray, wrote that AT&T was “duping customers.” Yesterday, the company joked about upgrading the iPhone to “9G” by putting a sticky note on it.

That said, Verizon isn’t completely innocent here. Verizon has also been misleading about its jump into 5G. Last year, the company bragged about launching the “world’s first commercial 5G service,” but it wasn’t quite what it sounds like. For one, it wasn’t mobile; it was home internet service that just happened to be delivered wirelessly during the final stretch to a subscriber’s home. And just as importantly, it didn’t use the global 5G standard; it used a rival 5G standard created by Verizon. The service did work a lot like real 5G would, but it wasn’t the same thing.

So when Verizon says it won’t mislead people about 5G, it seems to mean “going forward,” or at least, “on mobile.”

Still, it’s a good sign that both Verizon and T-Mobile are mocking AT&T’s branding. It suggests (though certainly doesn’t guarantee) that they won’t take part in the same kind of blatantly misleading marketing that’ll make it harder for consumers to figure out what’s going on with 5G when they pick out their next phone.

Verizon says it’s “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” (emphasis Verizon’s). Malady says Verizon will lead by example and that “a clear, consistent, and simple understanding of 5G” is needed so consumers don’t have to “maneuver through marketing double-speak or technical specifications.”

That said, you have to wonder whether Verizon is just leaving itself some wiggle room, and it’s very possible that it is.

Malady says Verizon will “not call our 4G network a 5G network if customers don’t experience a performance or capability upgrade that only 5G can deliver.” But that isn’t the same thing as saying “we won’t label our network 5G unless it’s 5G.” In fact, if you turn that sentence into a positive statement, it says “we will only call our 4G network a 5G network if it delivers a 5G-like experience.”

And who’s to decide what a 5G-like experience really is?