Have you heard? AT&T is going to “pave the way for the next generation of faster speeds” with something called 5G Evolution. No, it’s not actually a new 5G network, the much hyped successor to 4G that’s supposed to change the way we connect to the internet. It’s just a re-branded 4G offering, and AT&T’s sad attempt at seeming innovative.
If you already feel confused, don’t worry. AT&T probably isn’t offering 5G Evolution for your phone or in your area. The rollout is starting in certain parts of Austin, Texas and will only work with Samsung Galaxy S8 devices. AT&T promises to offer the new service in 20 metro areas by the end of the year. The company also promises that that 5G Evolution will offer speeds “up to twice as fast” as 4G LTE connections on its network. However, there is a warning below this claim that says the press release contains “forward-looking statements that are subject to risks and uncertainties, and actual results may differ materially.”
Weirdly, AT&T announced this very limited rollout of its new fake 5G service just a couple hours before news reports revealed that Verizon had outbid AT&T on a major chunk of 5G spectrum. (That’s for a real 5G network.) Who knows if the two announcements are related. There’s a good chance that they’re not, since AT&T first announced 5G Evolution back in January. But it makes you wonder: what exactly is AT&T trying to do with this new suspiciously named service?
The answer is pretty damn simple: AT&T is using good old fashioned marketing tricks to dupe customers. The company isn’t offering 5G service before everyone else, but plenty of people might believe that it is. Real 5G service is more than a marketing ploy, though. As Gizmodo’s own Michael Nunez explained early last year, 5G networks depend on an entirely different type of technology than 4G or 4G LTE. That’s part of the reason why it’s been so painfully difficult for telecom companies to set up new 5G networks.
AT&T’s new 5G Evolution service is also, notably, not the same thing as LTE-U, an ultrafast network technology that works on the same spectrum as wi-fi and Bluetooth. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave LTE-U the green light back in March, and T-Mobile says it will start operating LTE-U networks this year. So it’s hardly a surprise that AT&T would want to launch its own fancy new network as soon as possible. It just sucks that it sounds like bullshit.
If you’re an AT&T customer with a Samsung Galaxy S8 who happens to live in one of the same neighbourhoods where AT&T will be offering 5G Evolution, congratulations. Your phone is probably going to get a little bit faster soon. If you’re literally anyone else in America, don’t worry. You’re not missing out on a new lightning fast 5G network. You are enjoying some very confusing marketing, though. Thanks AT&T.