AT&T and Verizon face heavy scrutiny for misleading 5G claims

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The big buzzword for mobile carriers right now is “5G,” and there’s little chance the marketing and hype will slow down anytime soon. After all, 5G is a great opportunity for carriers to plaster big, impressive-sounding numbers on every billboard and TV commercial. The only problem is that a lot of what they’re hyping up means little to the vast majority of people. Thankfully, two of the biggest offenders of overhyping 5G, AT&T and Verizon, are facing heavy criticism within the industry for misleading consumers.

We’ll start with AT&T, which has already faced its fair share of scrutiny over its bogus “5G Evolution” marketing. T-Mobile and Verizon pushed back against the moniker, and Sprint even went as far as suing the company (though they later settled). Now, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) is recommending that AT&T stop its “5G Evolution” advertising. If you’re not familiar with the BBB, they’re a private, nonprofit organization that was set up with the goal to improve consumer trust in businesses. (The BBB has had its fair share of controversies over favoritism and being generally toothless, but businesses tend to self-adhere to BBB standards or at least listen to consumer complaints filed with the BBB in order to appear better than competitors.)

Why the BBB is relevant to this story is because the National Advertising Review Board, which is part of the BBB, said AT&T should discontinue advertising “5G Evolution” as being “The First Step to 5G.” The panel determined this claim is misleading “reasonable consumers into believing that AT&T is offering a 5G network” when industry tests have found 5G E to be slower than other carriers’ 4G LTE networks. AT&T said it “respectfully disagrees” with the decision, but that it will stop the advertisements nonetheless. More importantly, however, is that AT&T refuses to stop the “5G E” branding on devices, according to LightReading.

Verizon, like AT&T, has its own situation brewing with the BBB. The National Advertising Division of the BBB has told Verizon to stop claiming that it’s “building the most powerful 5G experience for America” and recommends it make it clear to consumers that the availability of its 5G network is very limited. Verizon has agreed to update its disclosures but will appeal the decision on the network construction claims.

Another concern of the NAD is Verizon’s spotty coverage in cities, some of which is only in stadiums and airports. The NAD said that Verizon’s billboards implied 5G coverage was coming wherever the ads were placed and the small print was obscured by colors and video transitions. Humorously, AT&T is the one that brought forth the initial complaint about the misleading Verizon ads.

While AT&T and Verizon are both fielding criticism from the BBB, mobile analytics company OpenSignal has released its 5G report detailing the 5G networks of popular carriers. The report compares network speeds across South Korea, Australia, the UK, and the US. In terms of speed, Verizon came out as the clear winner. The carrier’s Ultra Wideband (mmWave) network had average download speeds of 506 Mbps which was significantly higher than speeds possible with the other US carriers. Sprint averaged 114 Mbps, AT&T had 62 Mbps, and T-Mobile was last with 47 Mbps.

Of course, speed is only one part of the equation. In the case of 5G, coverage is a much bigger issue. OpenSignal’s report also said that Verizon customers are only using 5G 0.5% of the time. This fact harkens back to the BBB and its criticism of Verizon inflating the actual availability of its 5G network. Even if you live in one of the cities that has Verizon’s UWB 5G network, you have to be in a pretty precise location to actually use it. The fact is that it’s just not available for many people, even if they do have a compatible phone.

The other US carriers fared better in terms of coverage area. T-Mobile customers are using 5G 19.8% of the time, while AT&T customers use it 9.7% of the time. This is because both T-Mobile and AT&T have sub-6GHz 5G networks, which are considerably slower than Verizon’s mmWave 5G network but have dramatically better coverage. Still, if you’re only using Verizon’s hyper-fast 5G 0.5% of the time, maybe it’s better to be using the other carriers slower offerings more often? Even then, Verizon’s speed advantages may be slipping away, as PCMag reports that T-Mobile’s recent acquisition of Sprint’s mid-band 5G network have allowed for download speeds to exceed 1Gbps in New York City.

5G will continue to be a battleground when it comes to carrier marketing. The data is currently not on the side of the carriers and their boastful claims, however. Right now, consumers just aren’t seeing the benefits that carriers are touting. Did you know, for example, that Verizon just enabled uploads over its 5G network?


Via 1: VentureBeat | Via 2: VentureBeat | Via 3: Android Central

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