AT&T’s 5G E network isn’t actually 5G. You probably knew that, but since we’ll never get tired of dunking on it, a new study (via Ars Technica) now shows that 5G E isn’t just misleading, it proves that AT&T’s current 4G LTE speeds can actually be slower than other carriers who employ similar LTE Advanced and Advanced Pro technologies. Perhaps this is why AT&T is trying to sweep the lie under the rug.
OpenSignal data is based on crowdsourced speed tests that can be performed by anyone using OpenSignal’s apps for iPhone and Android. OpenSignal told us today’s report is based on tests on 1,057,522 devices nationwide, across all four carriers, between January 28 and February 26.
Only certain phones are capable of AT&T’s 5G E speeds and, as expected, they are faster than the slower AT&T 4G offerings available on lower-spec phones. But even at its fastest download speeds (28.8 Mbps) AT&T’s 5G E placed third out of the four carriers, with Verizon coming in first, T-Mobile in second, and Sprint in last. You can see the chart below that compares them.
Even more damning for 5G E: Opensignal notes that when the same 5G E-compatible phones are used on different networks, there isn’t a discernible difference in speed. It’s almost as if there’s nothing special at all about 5G E.
AT&T defended 5G E in a comment to Ars Technica, saying that “OpenSignal’s note reveals their methodology is flawed,” and that “Speed-test data purporting to show the ‘real-world experience of 5G Evolution’ without verifying the capable devices were tested in a 5G Evolution coverage area as shown by the indicator does not accurately represent the 5G Evolution user experience.” We’ve reached out for further comment.
The goal of Opensignal’s study is to “quantify the real-world experience of 5G E,” and seeing the numbers drives home that AT&T’s fake 5G network is just plain LTE. I think my colleague Chaim Gartenberg said it best back in early 2017:
What AT&T is referring to as “5G Evolution” may be faster than its current 4G networks, but calling it 5G is a meaningless marketing move designed to confuse customers and make AT&T seem like it has a technological leg up on the cutting edge of wireless technology. It is, plainly speaking, bullshit.
AT&T is, like the other carriers, at work on a real 5G network. If you’re eagerly awaiting true 5G connectivity, AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, and Verizon each plan to launch their respective services in 2019. But effectively, there’s no such thing as a network for 5G phones right now.