We’ve got 5G, says AT&T. No you haven’t, say Verizon and T-Mobile

10 January 2019 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Verizon and T-Mobile US have both hit out at AT&T’s move to pretend its LTE Advanced mobile network is really 5G.

AT&T has changed the network sign on some of its handsets to show “5G E” when connected to LTE Advanced towers.

Kyle Malady, CTO of Verizon, condemned the practice, without mentioning AT&T by name. “We’re calling on the broad wireless industry to commit to labelling something 5G only if new device hardware is connecting to the network using new radio technology to deliver new capabilities,” he wrote in a blog post which was also republished in US national newspapers as an advertisement.

“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,” he wrote.

“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. Doing so would break an enduring and simple promise we’ve made to our customers: That each new wireless generation makes new things possible.”

AT&T’s CEO, John Donovan, made light of the move, saying at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas yesterday: “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 they’re frustrated and gonna do what they’re gonna do.”

Donovan is right in that. At the start of the decade T-Mobile US, majority owned by Deutsche Telekom, decided to label a high-speed version of 3G, high-speed packet access (HSPA) as “4G”, well in advance of the network’s construction of its own true 4G LTE service.

T-Mobile, like its German parent, installed evolved HSPA that drove download speed up to 42Mbps – and the US offshoot promptly labelled it “4G”, to widespread criticism from the rest of the industry.

Meanwhile Sprint, with which T-Mobile US is hoping to merge, ran a WiMax service that it also claimed was 4G.

Now, T-Mobile US is also criticising AT&T for its 5G E label. The company tweeted a video (pictured) of someone putting a “9G” sticky note on the screen of a phone. 

And AT&T is saying that its LTE Advanced network – or 5G E, as it prefers – will deliver around 40Mbps, around the same as T-Mobile was claiming for 3G HSPA+ eight or nine years ago.

Malady’s Verizon said: “Our industry knows 5G will change the world. Let’s uphold that promise, while maintaining our integrity. The success of the 5G technological revolution must be measured in truth and fact, not marketing hype.”