AT&T (NYSE: T) phones will start showing a controversial “5G E” icon in the coming months. The company announced that it will be replacing the LTE indicator on its smartphones with a 5G E symbol in markets that support the latest and fastest LTE technologies. This is separate from AT&T’s real 5G network, which it has branded as 5G+.
A number of carriers are currently rolling out 5G networks, as AT&T did this week. The new technology promises to offer up mind-blowing data speeds, loading even the most complicated web pages in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, 5G-equipped smartphones are not available yet. Until they are, AT&T has found a questionable way to use the 5G hype for its 4G phones.
At the heart of the matter is the raft of 4G LTE features AT&T announced earlier this year.
These features include 4×4 MIMO, 256-bit Quadrature Amplitude Modulation (256 QAM), and Licensed Assisted Access (LAA) technologies. Phones with these features will still show 4G in markets without the updated network tech, but they’ll have “5G E” in the status bar to indicate the enhanced LTE signal.
While these technologies can boost speeds, they do not bring the frequencies out of 4G and into 5G. AT&T explains this by saying that a 5G E symbol means that the device is utilizing technologies that are stepping stones to true 5G. Critics are calling the explanation ridiculous marketing nonsense. Everyone else calls the slate of technologies Gigabit LTE.
The new 5G indicator will be rolled out to a handful of devices at first, with more devices getting the 5G E icon in the spring of 2019. While AT&T’s true 5G service is live, it is currently limited to Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, Raleigh, San Antonio and Waco, Texas. The company plans to roll out the service to seven more cities in the first half of 2019.