The jig is up for AT&T's 5G Evolution trickery... kind of

The jig is up for AT&T's 5G Evolution trickery... kind of
While America's top wireless service providers are busy trying to constantly upstage one another by claiming largely meaningless 5G-related achievements like a nationwide high-speed signal (that's anything but blazing fast) and even the world's fastest mobile network (only accessible in small parts of large cities), the nation's advertising regulators are left having to clean up the resulting marketing mess.

Mere days after the National Advertising Division (NAD) condemned Verizon for misleading publicity tactics and unclear communication of the carrier's current 5G limitations, the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) is "recommending" AT&T ditch some of its own exaggerated and potentially deceptive assertions in relation to a nascent 5G network and rebranded 4G LTE service.

Interestingly, the case against AT&T was initially brought up by T-Mobile, while Ma Bell pointed the finger at Verizon in the separate matter where the NAD reached a verdict last week that Big Red plans to appeal (in part). AT&T actually did appeal the NAD's original recommendations that two of its disingenuous advertising claims be discontinued, but unsurprisingly, the NARB ruled to uphold said decision.

No more 5G Evolution... ads


If you're the least bit familiar with the global mobile industry's slow transition from aging 4G LTE connectivity to a new 5G gold standard of download speeds and network latency, you probably know the first 5G launches took place in the US and South Korea a little over a year ago. 

Of course, carriers started the public race to "true" 5G way before April 2019, touting many theoretical and intermediary breakthroughs as early as 2018. Going even further back in time, some of you might remember a 2017 announcement that initially seemed pretty innocent. On the path to 5G, AT&T rolled out a service dubbed 5G Evolution that promised to offer "twice the speeds" of its conventional 4G LTE network.


5G Evolution slowly expanded to more and more markets until it eventually reached nationwide coverage, and AT&T's promotion of what was essentially LTE Advanced technology gradually grew more aggressive... and misleading. The carrier's shenanigans hit a high point when customers started noticing a little 5G E logo where the 4G LTE icon used to reside on their phones, leading many to expect vastly improved speeds.

This caused major public controversy, as well as seemingly endless mocking, a lawsuit, and this T-Mobile complaint to the National Advertising Division. Predictably enough, AT&T was found guilty of misrepresenting its LTE Advanced service, suggesting this had already "evolved" into 5G when that was unquestionably not the case yet. In fact, it's not the case now either in many places.

While AT&T "respectfully disagrees" with the National Advertising Review Board's ruling, the operator remains a "supporter of the self-regulatory process", which is why it does plan to discontinue the "5G Evolution" and "5G Evolution, The First Step to 5G" claims from any and all marketing materials, including TV commercials and other ad campaigns. But the 5G E saga actually doesn't end there.

The universally loathed icon is not going anywhere


That's right, AT&T tells LightReading the NARB's recommendations do not apply to the infamous 5G E logo still found on many smartphones merely capable of connecting to a 4G LTE network that is indeed fast (at least according to some specific tests) but that certainly doesn't come close to the speeds available on Verizon's mmWave-based 5G network or even on Sprint's mid-band spectrum.


As such, Ma Bell has no intention to discontinue said icon as it continues to work towards achieving nationwide coverage with its "true" low-band 5G service. When that happens, of course, the carrier will no longer need to trick its customers into believing its 5G deployment progress is more advanced than it really is. 

Then again, AT&T will remain (at least) one step behind T-Mobile, as the "Un-carrier" pursues its "layer cake" 5G rollout strategy, while also playing catch-up to Verizon in terms of 5G+, aka mmWave or high-band, deployment. It's still early days in the nation's evolution (pun intended) from antiquated 4G to blazing fast 5G, but it sure looks like AT&T will need a lot more than a misleading smartphone icon to retain its subscriber base, let alone expand it to fend off the "New T-Mobile" threat.

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