5G has been the battle cry of many network operators and device makers so it wasn’t surprising to see carriers scrambling to promote their network as the 5G network to beat. More than two years ago, however, AT&T ruffled no small amount of feathers when it rolled out its “5G Evolution” advertising campaign and its accompanying “5G E” icon on phones. That has lead to formal complaints and now AT&T is being given a slap on the wrist though that decision may come too little too late to make a difference anyway.
AT&T made a rather cunning move to beat its rivals to the 5G race by promoting its 5G Evolution network. Underneath all the marketing, however, it’s really just a form of 4G LTE and that fact has given rise to confusion, presumptions, and now, a formal ruling against AT&T.
Both the investigating National Advertising Division and the appellate National Advertising Review Board agree that AT&T engaged in misleading advertising no matter which way you look at it. The “5G” alone will make consumers presume it is a 5G network, regardless of how AT&T qualifies the marketing. In fact, the “Evolution” part only makes matters worse because it will be contrasted with 4G “Long-Term Evolution” or LTE while “The First Step in 5G” implies it is 5G already.
AT&T respectfully disagrees, of course, but it doesn’t have much choice really. It will remove prominent “5G Evolution” advertising and marketing materials but there’s a slight catch to the NARB’s verdict. The ruling only covers the advertising part of the campaign, leaving AT&T free to keep on using the equally misleading 5G E network indicator on smartphones. At least until a complaint is filed against that, too.
The ruling also comes late to make any substantial difference at this point. By this time, AT&T already does have 5G networks ready to go live soon so it no longer matters if it keeps that 5G Evolution marketing or not. For consumers that didn’t know any better, AT&T was the first to roll out a 5G-branded service and that’s all that matters to the carrier.