Not confusing at all: AT&T says millions of 4G LTE phones will soon run on ‘5G E’

AT&T says the 5G E indicator in the top-right corner of this image depicts an advanced 4G LTE network. AT&T

When is 4G not 4G? When it’s 5G, of course.

Network giant AT&T plans to rebrand potentially millions of 4G LTE smartphones to make it appear as though they are on 5G networks, the company confirmed on Friday — explaining that many technologies deeply linked to the faster 5G networks mobile carriers plan to roll out over the next few months have already been introduced on the company’s existing 4G network.

“If they have one of the latest Android devices and it connects to a tower that’s enabled with 5G Evolution, they’ll soon see a “5G E” indicator pop up on their screen,” an AT&T spokesperson told FierceWireless. “Initially we’ll roll this out on a handful of devices, with more devices showing the indicator in spring 2019.”

5G networks promise blazing speeds and nearly non-existent latency, leading to not just faster download speeds but a wide range of applications outside of simply mobile phones. Carriers are actively introducing “fixed wireless” options to let consumers use mobile networks in their houses, providing a much needed alternative to cable and DSL. The networks could also have applications ranging from self-driving cars to virtual reality to smart home — if some serious technology hurdles can be avoided.

Meanwhile, 4G LTE, short for Long Term Evolution, continues to … well, evolve. Gigabit LTE is an ongoing effort to improve the existing 4G networks, as a way to bridge 4G and 5G. It offers some of the benefits of 5G and relies on advanced technologies to get there, things like carrier aggregation, which uses multiple frequencies on cell towers to send data to and from your phone; 256-QAM, which allows more data to be transferred at one time; and 4×4 MIMO, which adds additional antennas to devices, allowing your phone to better pick up signals, thus resulting in increased speeds.

Advanced LTE? Yeah, we got that already, AT&T is claiming, noting that many of those technologies are already a part of its networks in certain areas. And in those spots, phones that had been showing little 4G LTE icons in the top right corner of their display screens will instead carry 5G E indicators, the company says.

Meanwhile, AT&T is actively rolling out a new 5G network across the country, recently announcing the launch of 5G networks in 12 cities across the U.S.: Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas, Houston, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Raleigh, San Antonio, and Waco. Service is initially limited to pre-selected customers and will be provided for free for at least 90 days.

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