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Why Ruin 5G Before It’s Here? AT&T To Give Customers Fake 5G Icon Next Year

If the rumors can be believed, next year AT&T customers will be the first to get a 5G icon in the upper right corners of their screens. A fake one.

5G doesn’t exist yet. Yet, according to FierceWireless, the company confirmed that it will begin changing the “LTE” indicator on some of its Android phones to “5G E.” This will happen in markets where the company offers its 4×4 MIMO, 256 QAM network, which you’ll notice, is an advanced 4G network, but by no means a 5G network.

And if you’re thinking, I’ve never heard of FierceWireless, the story has been picked up by The Verge, Engadget, Gizmodo (a site that can always be relied on for charmingly blunt commentary), Digital Trends, Mashable, and many more tech outlets.

5G is already suffering from a bit of an identity crisis, so why mislead customers into thinking the next great thing in connectivity is anything less than it is (or will be)?

A spokesperson for AT&T explained to FierceWireless how customers would experience the change:

“If they have one of the latest Android devices and it connects to a tower that’s enabled with 5G Evolution, they’ll soon see a “5G E” indicator pop up on their screen. Initially, we’ll roll this out on a handful of devices, with more devices showing the indicator in spring 2019.”

Right now, AT&T is trying to drive the 5G bandwagon by installing something called “5G Evolution” on towers across the country. While that is an infrastructure upgrade, it’s still not 5G, despite the company’s confusing explanation of the tech.

In a message “setting the record straight” about what 5G Evolution is and “how exactly it prepares us to be the first to mobile 5G,” AT&T explains:

“We’re laying the 5G network foundation with 5G Evolution and LTE-LAA. In technology terms, that means we’re upgrading cell towers with LTE Advanced features like 256 QAM, 4×4 MIMO, and 3-way carrier aggregation.  These technologies serve as the runway to 5G by boosting the existing LTE network and priming it for the future of connectivity. We can enable faster speeds now, and upgrade to 5G when it’s ready.”

OK, so laying the infrastructure for faster service seems like a good idea, but why mislead those who are not tech-savvy into thinking they’re getting something they’re not?

We already know that many consumers have a hard time keeping up with the techno-speak of the fast-evolving data sector. Will any boost in sales they get from misleading marketing pan out in the end when people realize they’re not getting what they think they’re paying for?

I personally wonder what consumers are going to feel entitled to on this upgraded-but-not-yet-5G network and how it will affect their view of real 5G later. When we’re performing major infrastructure upgrades and if prices (of anything, from gadgets to data plans) rise in conjunction, will the promises of fake 5G come back to haunt us all?

Of course, none of this tricky marketing is without precedent. FierceWireless pointed out that Sprint once jumped the gun back in the day when they branded their WiMAX network as 4G. And T-Mobile and AT&T once used HSPA+ as their misleading 4G back before they even had LTE.

But AT&T really leads the pack in false advertising, not only for “5G E” but also for its recent launch of “5G+” a few weeks ago in 12 cities – and the latter is a fake label you’ll have to pay $70 for (although, to be fair, the infrastructure is there for faster speeds – they’ll use their 39 GHz licensed spectrum band across 100 MHz of spectrum and 2×2 MIMO antennas –  just not 5G speeds).

At the end of the day, what consumers need to know is that there’s no 5G, yet. When there is, it will no doubt be great for innovations that require super-fast speed-of-thought data in order to work properly, things like driverless cars, for example. And yes, it’ll also make your video streaming much faster (but it won’t stop Netflix from asking if you’re still alive).

Of course, there will be expenses associated with it as well as environmental consequences (since old devices won’t work on the new networks and we’ll need more and more energy to run it), but the greatly reduced latency (or waiting times) are something to look forward to. (Note: If you’re looking for a good skeptical take on the promises of 5G altogether, Karl Bode wrote a great piece for Motherboard laying it all out.)

In the meantime, customers should be aware that they can upgrade their networks to pre-5G tech, but they’re not yet paying for real 5G, and calling it that is misleading for all of us at this point. – Forbes

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