AT&T claims advanced 4G is '5G'

AT&T is issuing a software update to certain Android devices so it appears as though they are accessing a 5G network – even though they aren’t

The update will see 17 smartphones display a ‘5GE’ (5G Evolution) icon at the top of the screen but in reality, they are only accessing an upgraded version of 4G.

The US operator has justified the action by claiming upgrades to 4G are laying the foundation for 5G and that when standards-based 5G is available, the devices will display a ‘5G+’ icon.


“Initially we’ll roll this out on a handful of devices, with more devices showing the indicator in spring 2019,” explained Kevin Petersen, head of device and network experiences at AT&T. “5G Evolution is an important set of technologies that AT&T is rolling out while at the same time introducing standards-based mobile 5G in parts of 12 cities this year and in parts of at least 7 more cities in early 2019.”

However, the move has been widely mocked by AT&T’s rivals who have no plans to follow suit, while critics will argue consumers will be confused and misled. Indeed, they may consider ‘5GE’ to be more advanced than LTE and ‘5G+’ to be superior to standards-based 5G. What’s more, many of these upgrades to 4G have already been rolled out by multiple operators, with some calling these ‘LTE-E’

AT&T was the second US operator to launch a commercial 5G service, however its network is limited to mobile hotspot services in parts of 12 cities in what seemed to be a last-ditch attempt to honour its pledge to go live in 2018.

Coverage is likely to expand with the arrival of the first 5G compatible smartphones in the next few months. The first UK 5G networks will be available later in 2019.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.