AT&T found a clever, and misleading, many people say, way to get ahead of the field on 5G. By taking its 4G LTE network and increasing the number of connections between a cell tower and phone (4 X 4 MIMO), packing more data into signals (256QAM) and widening a "data lane" (carrier aggregation), the carrier can offer data speeds twice that available on 4G LTE. AT&T calls this 5G Evolution and added a "5G E" icon on the status bar of its handsets that are connected to this network.
Some might consider this to be just plain wrong since most consumers have no idea what 4 X 4 MIMO, or 256QAM is. And when they hear about 5G Evolution and see the 5G E icon, they must think that they are enjoying 5G data speeds, which is hardly the case. Sure, 5G Evolution does feature enhanced 4G LTE service, but do AT&T's customers know this?
Last month, Sprint filed a lawsuit against AT&T, claiming that its rival used "numerous deceptive tactics to mislead consumers into believing that it currently offers a coveted and highly anticipated fifth-generation wireless network, known as 5G." Spotted by Ars Technica, over the weekend Sprint did something that it might have taken from the T-Mobile playbook (both firms are waiting for regulatory approval to merge). It took out a full page ad in The New York Times correctly stating that AT&T's 5G Evolution is not 5G. The ad also notes that AT&T seems to have taken some delight in deceiving the public.
Ironically, AT&T did launch mobile 5G service in 12 markets back in December. This service uses a Netgear Nighthawk mobile 5G hotspot to connect to the wireless provider's 5G network. A limited number of subscribers are receiving a free 90-day free trial. AT&T says that when it does offer the service next quarter, the Nighthawk will cost $499 and 15GB of 5G data will be priced at $70 a month.
Meanwhile, Sprint is not allowing AT&T to get off scot free with its 5G Evolution deception by challenging AT&T in the court of law and in the court of public opinion.