AT&T Attempts A Head Fake With 'Fake 5G'

We've already gone over how fifth-generation "5G" wireless, while a notable improvement in network speed and performance, has been obnoxiously over-hyped by hardware vendors and cellular carriers. We've also noted that in reality, broad availability of 5G-capable handsets and networks are still quite a few years away, and when products do arrive, they won't, contrary to some claims, magically fix the myriad of problems deeply woven into the U.S. broadband industry, most of which have to do with lobbyist political power and the monopoly domination of cellular tower backhaul.

AT&T's been among the biggest hype generators for 5G, even though its early offerings on this front, while fast, tend to suffer from high prices and low usage caps (did you expect something else?). In addition to over-hyping 5G's impact, AT&T has been busy both distorting what 5G actually is... and dramatically over-stating actual availability. For example, last year AT&T introduced what it called "5G Evolution" wireless connectivity, which wasn't actually 5G, but a collection of tech (specifically 4x4 MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) antenna and 256 QAM technologies) that simply made existing LTE networks somewhat faster.

AT&T's since taken this head fake to an entirely new level. Last week, for example, AT&T began replacing the "LTE" (4G) notifier on many users phones with a "5G E" symbol, despite its phones and networks not actually being upgraded to 5G yet:

In short, AT&T is taking some modest network improvements to existing 4G LTE networks, and confidently calling them 5G, knowing full well the Pai FCC isn't likely to do much of anything about it. Confusing customers into thinking AT&T's ahead in the 5G "race" (which isn't a race) appears to be the whole point:

"AT&T last year introduced the “5G Evolution” marketing label to cover markets where it offers advanced LTE network technologies like carrier aggregation, 4x4 MIMO, LAA and 256 QAM. Such technologies can dramatically improve the speeds available through LTE, and AT&T has argued that such technologies pave the way for eventual 5G services, though critics have argued that AT&T’s “5G Evolution” marketing moves only serve to sow confusion among consumers."

If you've been around the wireless sector for a while, you might recall that earlier generation standards also played fast and loose with actual definitions. Carrier marketing departments, for example, eventually convinced the UN's International Telecommunication Union that it was fine to pretty much call whatever they wanted "4G", since confusing and misleading customers, or over-stating product availability (as any cellular carrier coverage map will tell you), has never really been considered a bad thing in telecom.

The one-two punch of over-promising what 5G actually delivers (like this story which proclaims it will bring 4 day workweeks to us all) while distorting the very definition of 5G, is likely to leave a sour taste in consumers' mouths once they realize the canyon-esque gap between marketing hype and reality (especially on pricing, which is rarely discussed). And this is, of course, before you tack on the inevitable arbitrary restrictions and limitations AT&T hopes to erect in the wake of the death of real FCC oversight and net neutrality protections.

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