AT&T is already embroiled in lawsuits over its “5G Evolution” service, or 5G E, which the company claims enables speeds up to 2x faster than traditional 4G LTE on compatible devices. Competitors, however, have taken AT&T to task over this claim, and allege that 5G E is nothing more than a misleading marketing tactic designed to deceive consumers and gain a leg-up as true, next-generation 5G networks begin rolling out. A study that was just released by Opensignal seems to jibe with what AT&T's competitors have to say.
AT&T’s 5G Evolution service is enabled by a handful of key upgrades to the company’s existing 4G LTE network: carrier aggregation, 4x4 MIMO, and 256 QAM. Carrier aggregation is just what it sounds like and allows compatible/capable devices to aggregate additional carrier bands to increase overall bandwidth. 4X4 MIMO doubles the number of antennas that can be utilized simultaneously for data transmission. And 256 QAM increases the efficiency of those transmissions.
All of those things sound good, and according to Opensignal’s data, they do provide for a better overall experience for AT&T users with 5G E compatible devices that were previously limited to AT&T’s vanilla 4G LTE service. However, even with the upgraded performance afforded by 5G E, AT&T didn’t provide any benefits over competitors’ 4G. For example, download speeds on AT&T 5G E reached 28.8Mbps, while the same devices on T-Mobile's or Verizon's networks reached 29.5Mbps and 29.9Mbps, respectively.
According to the report, “…data shows that AT&T users with 5G E-capable smartphones receive a better experience than AT&T users with less capable smartphone models, for example those with an LTE Category below 16. But 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.”
With real-world finding such as this, we understand why AT&T’s 5G Evolution naming convention has unleashed a firestorm from its competitors, especially considering none of the devices currently on sale at any carrier are true 5G devices. Yes, they are coming soon, and true 5G networks are being built-out as we speak, but it is going to be a while before consumers start experiencing the benefits.