In a quasi-blog post, Verizon CTO Kyle Malady took to task “network providers, equipment manufacturers, handset makers, app developers, and others in the wireless ecosystem” that have engaged in actions “designed to purposefully confuse consumers, public officials, and the investment community about what 5G really is, we risk alienating the very people we want most to join in developing and harnessing this exciting new technology.”
While not mentioning any names (this is again Verizon we are speaking about, and that would not be proper), Malady called on the “broad wireless industry to commit to labeling something 5G only if new device hardware is connecting to the network using new radio technology to deliver new capabilities.”
Malady, not surprisingly, said Verizon was taking a pledge to not confuse customers by calling its 4G LTE network 5G.
“We won’t take an old phone and just change the software to turn the 4 in the status bar into a 5,” Malady wrote. “We will not call our 4G network a 5G network if customers don’t experience a performance or capability upgrade that only 5G can deliver.”
Verizon does however use 5G in describing its 5G Home service that uses a proprietary technology that does not currently align with internationally recognized standards bodies. The carrier launched that service last October and has said it plans to update the technology underlying the service to a standards-based 5G model as it becomes available.
“We were very clear when we launched 5G Home that it was on the TF [Technology Forum] standard and that when NR [New Radio] hardware was ready we’d update customers at no charge,” explained Verizon spokesman Kevin King.
Verizon’s non-labeled barbs were obviously directed at AT&T, which last month said it was going to include a 5GE banner on devices that connect to the carrier’s “5G Evolution” network. That network is actually the carrier’s 4G LTE network that uses more spectrum, small cells, carrier aggregation, 4×4 multiple input multiple output (MIMO), and 256 QAM to provide increased data speeds.
AT&T said its 5G Evolution network was available in close to 400 markets across the country and provides network speeds up to 400 Mb/s. The carrier initially launched the 5G Evolution branding last April. Most of AT&T’s rivals also offer those updates to their own LTE networks, which the industry has labeled “Gigabit LTE.” But only AT&T has taken the next step by marketing and labeling its upgraded 4G LTE network as 5G.
The 5G Evolution network should not be confused with AT&T’s 5G network, which it launched in a dozen markets last month. That network uses standards-based 5G technology and millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum resources.
Analysts have linked AT&T’s move to past network technology evolutions. The most cited was the use of 4G about 10 years ago by AT&T and T-Mobile US to describe the HSPA+ technology that was really just an enhancement to then available 3G network technologies.
“Use of 5G Evolution can be argued as the marketing folks getting ahead of the engineers,” explained William Ho, founder and principal analyst at 556 Ventures. “But if you shrug off all the criticisms in the past with 4G and T-Mobile and AT&T back in 2010, so what? The silver lining is to educate the existing customer base that something new is coming. I believe it’s a short-term marketing risk that only people in the tech community care about as well as competitors having the open opportunity to bash each other.”
That sentiment was echoed by BTIG analyst Walter Piecyk.
“The tech media can scold AT&T for using 5GE, but if implemented properly the AT&T customer should notice a material improvement in performance when the 5GE tag appears on their phone,” Piecyk wrote in a report. “The lift in performance in 2019 should be noticeable to AT&T customers, whereas the change from 3G to 4G HSPA+ was disappointing.”