AT&T to begin upgrading existing LTE phones to ‘5G E’

AT&T confirmed to FierceWireless that it will soon begin changing the “LTE” indicator on some of its current Android phones to “5G E” in markets where the company now offers 4x4 MIMO, 256 QAM and other advanced LTE network technologies.

“If they have one of the latest Android devices and it connects to a tower that’s enabled with 5G Evolution, they’ll soon see a “5G E” indicator pop up on their screen,” an AT&T spokesperson wrote in response to questions from FierceWireless. “Initially we’ll roll this out on a handful of devices, with more devices showing the indicator in spring 2019.”

The operator didn’t immediately respond to questions about the total number of devices that would be affected by the change. However, potentially millions of existing LTE smartphone owners could eventually see their AT&T network status icon change from “LTE” to “5G E.” AT&T said its “5G Evolution” service will be commercially available in more than 400 markets by the end of this year.

AT&T last year introduced the “5G Evolution” marketing label to cover markets where it offers advanced LTE network technologies like carrier aggregation, 4x4 MIMO, LAA and 256 QAM. Such technologies can dramatically improve the speeds available through LTE, and AT&T has argued that such technologies pave the way for eventual 5G services, though critics have argued that AT&T’s “5G Evolution” marketing moves only serve to sow confusion among consumers.

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AT&T’s decision to change its “LTE” indicator to “5G E” has precedence. Sprint branded its WiMAX network as a 4G offering, while T-Mobile (and then later AT&T) both branded HSPA+ as 4G before the arrival of LTE. Those moves were notable considering the wireless industry widely regards LTE as the official 4G technology.

AT&T’s “5G E” label will sit next to its “5G+” label, which the operator has applied to its mobile 5G service launching today in 12 cities. AT&T’s “5G+” label applies to transmissions in the operator’s millimeter-wave spectrum. (AT&T’s initial mobile 5G launch will transmit signals in its 39 GHz licensed spectrum band across 100 MHz of spectrum and 2x2 MIMO antennas.)

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For its part, Verizon has branded its 5G service as “5G Ultra Wideband.”