When AT&T rebranded its LTE service as “5G E” in certain markets in an attempt to mislead consumers, companies like Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint cried foul, as did users. There’s been little interest in repeating the confusion of the early 4G transition when that moniker was hijacked and used to refer to HSPA+, a technology that offered a modest improvement on 3G performance but nothing like the eventual capabilities of what we now call LTE. AT&T, on the other hand, saw an opportunity to gain market share by lying about its network and publicly doubled down on the strategy, praising itself for breaking “our industry’s narrative.”
Here’s a narrative the company might find less praiseworthy. It’s 5G E network is measurably slower than the ordinary 4G service delivered by both T-Mobile and Verizon. It did at least manage to beat Sprint, which isn’t saying much, considering Sprint has been the last-place network in the US for quite some time. Tests by OpenSignal found that AT&T’s performance in its 5G E service areas offers no improvements over other areas with equivalent LTE service. The only difference measured is by phone, with newer devices enjoying higher LTE-based performance as compared to older ones.
AT&T users with a 5G E-capable smartphone receive similar speeds to users on other carriers with the same smartphone models that AT&T calls 5G E. The 5G E speeds which AT&T users experience are very much typical 4G speeds and not the step-change improvement which 5G promises.
What OpenSignal found, specifically, is that yes — if you have an AT&T device that shows a 5G E signal, that device is significantly faster than a device that doesn’t show a 5G E signal. This has absolutely nothing to do with any “5G” network upgrades AT&T has made. It simply means that you own a later-model device that’s capable of using the faster LTE standards that AT&T has chosen to label as 5G E. If you take a phone that shows a 5G E signal over AT&T and compare it with the same device running on Verizon or T-Mobile LTE, performance is slightly faster on competitor networks. All four carriers were tested using the same methodology.
We already knew that AT&T’s 5G E network was a lie, but it’s good to see the facts confirmed with objective performance information. If you see good performance on a 5G E network, it’s because AT&T invested in LTE, not some new network it hasn’t even switched on yet. Given that the company is fully committed to lying to customers, the only way to push back is to counter the narrative. If the topic comes up, tell friends and family that AT&T’s 5G “E” isn’t 5G at all, and not to waste their time or money on the concept. Don’t reward AT&T for being willing to mismarket its own products or network.