So earlier this month, we noted how AT&T had pissed off competitors and consumers alike by pretending its existing fourth generation wireless network (4G) was actually 5G. More specifically, AT&T has been changing the "4G" icon on its customers phones to say "5G E," despite the fact that actual 5G service at scale is still probably several years away. Technically, AT&T simply took some of the improvements it recently added to its 4G networks (like better MIMO antennas and more efficient 256 QAM technologies), and decided to call this "5G Evolution" in a bid to pretend it was the first to launch actual 5G.
Competitors and consumers noticed.
Competitors like T-Mobile have been having fun making fun of AT&T's head fake on Twitter:
didn’t realize it was this easy, brb updating pic.twitter.com/dCmnd6lspH
— T-Mobile (@TMobile) January 7, 2019
Here's where a normal company would acknowledge it had been overly creative and announce that in a bid to avoid confusing customers, it would walk back what was fairly obviously a bad, misleading idea. But that's not how AT&T rolls. When pressed for comment, AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan decided instead to double down, and expressed glee at the level of consternation AT&T's fake 5G created:
"Every company is guilty of building a narrative of how you want the world to work, and I love the fact that we broke our industry's narrative two days ago, and so they're frustrated and they're going to do what they do," Donovan said.
Except it's not just AT&T's competitors that are frustrated. Customers also think AT&T's moves are misleading, something that harms AT&T since consumers are being trained to see AT&T's 5G promises as horse shit at this juncture. Donovan though remained undaunted in his excitement over the confusion his marketing gambit sowed:
"I think the result of last month, beating the industry out [with the 5G hotspot], and this 5G E launch a couple of days ago, our competitors are frustrated," Donovan said. "if I have now occupied beachfront real estate in my competitors' heads, that makes me smile."
Granted if you've watched AT&T mislead the press, public, and government on subjects like net neutrality or misleading billing, this is certainly well in character for the telecom giant. AT&T's not likely to learn the underlying lesson here: instead of getting consumers excited about the real potential for 5G, they've fixated consumers and the press on the fact that AT&T's promises surrounding this technology shouldn't be believed.
Customers were already skeptical of wireless carrier claims given years of misleading coverage maps, and this sort of behavior will only support the belief that, for lack of a more technical term, the wireless sector is often aggressively full of shit.