AT&T will reportedly put a 5G label on new Android phones that won’t actually be able to take advantage of 5G networks.
The company is planning to add a “5G E” indicator to the top right bar of new phones that can connect to what AT&T calls its “5G Evolution” towers, according to a report from Fierce Wireless. 5G Evolution is AT&T’s term for its advanced LTE technologies, such as 4X4 MIMO. While those technologies increase the speed of LTE, they’re not 5G.
AT&T and its rivals have pulled stunts like this before. Both AT&T and T-Mobile branded their HSPA+ networks as 4G before 4G was actually a thing, and Sprint did the same with its WiMax network.
AT&T just launched its 5G wireless network with a mobile hotspot, Netgear’s Nighthawk, but there are no smartphones that can take advantage of a 5G network — at least not yet. The first phones are expected in the first half of 2019.
A 5G indicator, even with an E to denote that it’s not quite 5G, will likely only confuse people who have heard a lot about the next-gen wireless network but don’t know when it’s coming or what it will be good for. (For a deeper dive into all of those details, check out our in-depth 5G guide.)
AT&T’s advanced LTE networks are faster than existing 4G LTE networks, and will bridge the gap between 4G and 5G. But 5G E is not 5G. We’ve reached out to AT&T to find out the reasoning behind its branding decision and will update this story if the company responds.