AT&T just officially launched its 5G network, deploying millimeter wave 5G in a dozen markets with a new hotspot device that can utilize the new network. AT&T does not, however, have a 5G phone yet. But that isn't going to stop it from updating iconography on existing LTE phones to show its customers that it really cares about 5G. The carrier has confirmed with FierceWireless that "the latest Android devices" will soon see their "LTE" status bar icon change to "5G E" to signify that it is connected to AT&T's "5G Evolution" network.
Spend your time and money making your network better, not telling me it's better.
The "5G E" icon will only show when a customer's phone is connected to its upgraded network, which offers improved 4G LTE speeds through the use of carrier aggregation, 4x4 MIMO transmission and 256 QAM. But there's a problem: these technologies are not 5G, nor are they in any way related to 5G. They are 4G LTE. AT&T's "5G Evolution" network has been around for over 18 months, steadily expanding LTE speeds nationwide — and to its credit, these network upgrades are entirely useful and necessary even as we transition to 5G. LTE will continue to be the backbone of carriers' networks for years to come. But again, they are not 5G.
AT&T says customers will start to see the "5G E" icon when connected to an upgraded tower soon, with the rollout happening slowly at first and ramping up through the spring of 2019.
This move is disingenuous at best, and intentionally misleading at worst. AT&T's marketing department has mapped this out well, but it's doing a disservice to customers by completely muddying the waters over what is and isn't 5G. The change from "LTE" to "5G E" in your phone's status bar has done absolutely nothing to improve your speeds or experience, or to justify the price of your bill. Your phone has gained no further capabilities than it had the week before on the exact same network with a different label. We can only hope that U.S. consumers are able to see through this misdirection, but it shouldn't come down to that — AT&T should do right by its customers and be completely transparent about what it's selling.
We've been down this exact road before, most notably with T-Mobile branding its upgraded HSPA+ network as "4G" before LTE had been deployed. We lambasted the carrier for that move, and AT&T deserves the same treatment here. AT&T, with its choice to roll out the "5G E" icon, is ignoring the old tenet that actions speak louder than words: spend your time and money making your network better, not telling me it's better.