Shopping for a new phone on AT&T’s website, you might come across a feature tab labeled “5G Evolution.”
Don’t be fooled. This isn’t actual 5G but rather AT&T’s marketing department at work.
While the rest of the wireless industry gears up for next generation 5G wireless networks, AT&T has gone ahead and rebranded some of its latest 4G LTE phones. The goal: To convince people that these phones, which includes a number of recent iPhones, Galaxys and LG devices, are similar to the 5G devices due to arrive in the coming weeks and months.
AT&T is even updating the icons on some of its existing Android phones to feature a “5G E” logo.
Hate to break it to you, but your existing iPhone 8, iPhone XR, Galaxy S9 or LG V30 did not magically gain 5G capabilities. They will work the same as they did before, connecting to AT&T’s updated 4G LTE network.
Actual 5G phones will need to have the proper chips inside to connect to the new networks, something current devices lack. Samsung, LG and OnePlus have all said they will release 5G phones this year, with AT&T announcing it will have two 5G Samsung phones in 2019.
These 5G devices will be able to take advantage of 5G’s improvements, including its faster speeds and more responsive performance. While current 4G LTE phones will still work fine over the next few years, calling them a form of 5G is misleading. (Making things more confusing: AT&T plans for two different versions of 5G, one called 5G and another 5G+).
On its website, AT&T justifies the marketing by saying that they’ve “made changes that are already bringing faster speeds to the latest devices on our LTE network.”
Not the first time
This isn’t the first time AT&T, or the wireless industry, has tried to blur the lines when it comes to new technology.
Before T-Mobile launched its LTE network, it rebranded its improved 3G network, known as HSPA+, as “4G” in 2010 to tap into the excitement around 4G and keep itself competitive in the public eye with the 4G networks being launched by its rivals.
This switch is also why AT&T and T-Mobile iPhones today show “4G” when not connected to their respective LTE networks.
Verizon and T-Mobile have both taken advantage of AT&T’s latest marketing ploy to get in a few digs at their shared rival.
In a tweet, T-Mobile replaced the LTE logo on an iPhone with a “9G” sticker, adding, “didn’t realize it was this easy, brb updating.”
Verizon, meanwhile, took out full-page ads in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and USA TODAY Tuesday to seemingly address AT&T’s recent moves.
“The potential for 5G is awesome, but the potential to over-hype and under-deliver on the 5G promise is a temptation that the wireless industry must resist,” Kyle Malady, Verizon’s chief technology officer, writes in the ad. Confusing terms “risk alienating the very people we want most to join in developing and harnessing this exciting new technology.”
“Verizon is making this commitment today: We won’t take an old phone and just change the software to turn the 4 in the status bar into a 5. We will not call our 4G network a 5G network if customers don’t experience a performance or capability upgrade that only 5G can deliver.”
Follow Eli Blumenthal on Twitter @eliblumenthal
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