AT&T to halt '5G Evolution' advertising, but the icon will remain

A panel of the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) recommended that AT&T discontinue its "5G Evolution" advertising claims.

And AT&T said it will.

"AT&T respectfully disagrees with the reasoning and result reached by the panel majority," the operator said in a statement to Light Reading. "AT&T's customers nationwide continue to benefit from dramatically superior speeds and performance that its current network provides. As a supporter of the self-regulatory process, however, AT&T will comply with the NARB's decision."

But AT&T said the NARB's recommendation only applies to its advertising and therefore will not affect the one element that really matters: Its service icon.

AT&T said it will continue to display its '5GE' icon on its customers' LTE phones.
AT&T said it will continue to display its "5GE" icon on its customers' LTE phones.

AT&T announced in 2017 it would brand its LTE network as "5G Evolution." And at the end of 2018 the operator announced it would replace the "LTE" icon on its customers' phones with the "5GE" icon.

The move essentially allowed AT&T to leapfrog T-Mobile and Verizon in 5G by remotely upgrading its customer base to something that looked like 5G. The move was designed to prevent AT&T customers with a "5GE" icon on their phone from switching to T-Mobile's 5G or Verizon's 5G because they already had something that looked like 5G.

The action sparked widespread outrage from pundits and AT&T's competitors, which eventually led to the National Advertising Division (NAD) ruling that AT&T should discontinue its "5G Evolution" advertising. AT&T appealed NAD's recommendation, which pushed the issue to the NARB.

Importantly, the NARB's recommendation is essentially too little, too late, at least when it comes to 5G. AT&T is putting the finishing touches on a nationwide buildout of actual 5G technology in its lowband, 850MHz spectrum. That development will allow AT&T to advertise "nationwide 5G" rather than "nationwide 5G Evolution." (It's probably not worth mentioning that lowband 5G isn't much faster than 4G LTE.)

And, because AT&T won't change its icon, its existing 5GE customers still won't need to do anything.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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