AT&T’s misleading “5G E” indicator comes to 4G iPhones in iOS 12.2 beta

AT&T’s misleading “5G E” network indicator for 4G phones, which was rolled out to some Android smartphones last month, has now come to iPhones in a beta version of iOS 12.2.

AT&T customers who installed the second beta of iOS 12.2 “are noticing their iPhones displaying a ‘5G E’ connection to AT&T’s network,” MacRumors reported yesterday.

9to5Mac and other news sites provided details on the change, and people on Twitter posted screenshots of the 5G E indicator.

Of course, there is no 5G iPhone yet, and AT&T does not offer 5G mobile service for smartphones. AT&T’s 5G E stands for 5G Evolution, but it’s actually 4G LTE, albeit with advanced LTE features 256 QAM, 4×4 MIMO, and three-way carrier aggregation.

As we’ve previously noted, those technologies are part of the years-old LTE-Advanced standard, and are already used by Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint on their 4G networks. AT&T is the only major carrier using a 5G label for its 4G network, a move it defends by saying that “5G Evolution is our first step on the road to 5G.”

“5G Evolution is now live in over 400 markets with more to come, and soon our most popular smartphones will start displaying a ‘5G E’ indicator to let you know when 5G Evolution coverage is available,” the company says.

Real AT&T 5G coming next year

AT&T says that its real 5G network will be available nationwide in early 2020, using sub-6GHz spectrum. AT&T’s 5G rollout over millimeter-wave spectrum will apparently take longer to go nationwide.

We contacted Apple about the change in the iOS 12.2 beta today, and will update this story if we get a response.

AT&T confirmed the change to Ars, saying that “some iPhone and iPad users could start seeing our 5G Evolution indicator on their devices. The indicator simply helps customers know when they are in an area where the 5G Evolution experience may be available.”

AT&T has said that 5G E provides average speeds of about 40Mbps, while its trials of real 5G have been producing speeds of more than a gigabit per second over millimeter-wave frequencies. OpenSignal measurements last year found that AT&T’s average 4G speed nationwide was 15Mbps.

AT&T’s use of the 5G E indicator has been widely mocked by customers and its rivals. AT&T has been undeterred, with AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan claiming, “our competitors are frustrated.”

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