AT&T’s Fake 5G Service Also Coming to iPhone

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When AT&T announced that it would mislabel 4G LTE service and market it as 5G E (the “E” stands for dEceit) the initial announcement only mentioned Android devices. I had hoped that Apple wouldn’t allow this practice or that the company would at least issue a statement on the topic. Instead, it looks like Apple devices will also be updated to use this inaccurate branding.

This is particularly egregious in the case of the iPhone, which does not support 5G service. Unlike at least some Android devices likely to come to market in 2019, the new iPhones this year probably won’t support 5G service, either. Obviously, this could change, but the consistent rumor since fall has been that Apple won’t launch true 5G support until 2020. If the company sticks to its regular release schedule, 5G iPhones will arrive in the fall of that year.

How much this practically matters ought to be a matter of debate. As the owner of a humble iPhone SE, I can’t claim to be on the absolute cutting-edge of the market. On the other hand, I often stream video to this device and do a great deal of mobile web surfing. Network performance — and I’m typically on LTE, not Wi-Fi — is generally quite good, even at low bars and when using AT&T’s network in rural areas. This wasn’t the case during the 3G – LTE shift. LTE service and increased performance made a significant difference to my device’s overall performance. The boost I’d get from 5G would obviously improve things more, but they’re pretty good already.

But the issue at hand isn’t whether LTE is fast enough. It’s whether this kind of misleading branding should ever be acceptable. As far as we’re concerned, the answer is “No.” Apple has good economic reason to allow its phones to be branded 5G E — it wants to pretend it has 5G service when it actually has nothing of the sort. But 5G E is nothing but LTE with a new name on it and has no business being marketed as anything else.

The 5G E icon is only appearing in areas where AT&T’s “Evolution” network is active. It’s showing up in the iOS 12.2 Beta 2 OS distribution that dropped yesterday. It also appears confined to the most recent iPhones, at least for now. While there’s been no formal announcement or leaked information on this topic, it’s certainly possible that AT&T is requiring its partners to accept its branding decision or risk their products not being sold in AT&T’s stores.

While we acknowledge that Apple may have felt its hands were tied, if this is indeed the case, the company should have taken a different course of action. Apple is perhaps the only company that could’ve pushed back hard enough to stop this practice in the first place. It may not be 2010, when “There’s an app for that,” was practically a national motto, but Apple still commands tremendous clout in the US market. The company could have attempted to rally its own customer base against this miscommunication.

Apple should never have engaged or promoted this shameful scam, regardless of the fact that Android carriers and Google appear to have no problem lying to their customers. AT&T has not unlocked some hidden iPhone capability. They’ve just decided to lie to their customers and gotten Apple to agree. “5G E” is just LTE with more deception attached. Shame on Google, the Android carriers, and Apple for supporting this effort to misrepresent AT&T’s network capabilities.

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