AT&T proudly boasted this week that in Austin, and in 20-plus markets by year’s end, that its customers would see wireless speeds leaving industry standard 4G LTE in the dust.
Two catches. First, only a few smartphones could work in that express lane. Second, when AT&T labeled the new faster service “5G,” alternately “5G Evolution,” it was talking about the company’s definition of 5G.
Indeed, in a line in the first paragraph of its press release touting the service, AT&T said: “We continue to lay the foundation for our evolution to 5G while the 5G standards are being finalized.”
Oh, so AT&T simply declared its faster speed to be 5G while the industry figures out what that the term 5G will mean.
Folks at The Verge weren’t buying it.
“Calling it 5G is a meaningless marketing move designed to confuse customers and make AT&T seem like it has a technological leg up on the cutting edge of wireless technology,” the website wrote. “It is, plainly speaking, bullshit.”
Yahoo news headlined its post on the AT&T claim: “AT&T to Roll Out 5G Network That’s Not Actually 5G.” Engadget called it a “faux 5G network.” Techspot said “AT&T launches a 5G Evolution network that isn’t actually 5G.”
Sprint CEO Marcelo Claure tweeted a link to The Verge post and said AT&T was building a “fake 5G network.”
In truth, most industry analysts believe 5G networks and the devices that can tap into their faster speeds won’t appear for another three years, at the earliest. Even after the standards are agreed upon, billions must be spent to deploy new antennas, towers and tweak the software of existing network hardware.
Today, most smartphones tap into 4G, or the fourth generation of cellphone technology. So-called 5G, based on the international Groupe Speciale Mobile Association standards, will have theoretical download speeds of 10 gigabits per second. That’s exponentially faster than what 4G does today, and what AT&T is rolling out.
It will probably require new phones, making even today’s latest iPhone or Android obsolete.
In March, Sprint announced it’s positioned to launch a “gigabit class” of service. Yet that came on tests of yet-to-be-released phones achieving downloads of 700-900 megabits per second, short of a gigabit.
The Overland Park-based company said at the time its rollout is part of a push toward 5G service and will provide backup speeds similar to “first-generation” 5G services, though without some other key features of 5G.
Even The Verge, concedes that AT&T’s newest is a step forward. It’s working in Austin, Texas, now. Its release quoted one of its marketing chiefs saying the so-called 5G “gives our customers a taste of the future.” For the moment, it’s only available with Samsung Galaxy S8 or S8+. Data would move at twice the rate it does on AT&T’s 4G systems.