U.S. operator rolls out 4.5G but calls it 5G Evolution; telco hack calls for banning of mislabelled mobile services.

As if losing hundreds of thousands of postpaid phone customers in the first quarter wasn’t bad enough, AT&T this week also launched what it calls a ‘5G Evolution’ service.

What the rest of the industry refers to as 4.5G, or LTE-Advanced Pro, is clearly not highfalutin enough for the U.S. telco; only the best ‘G’ will do for Randall Stephenson and Co., and in this case, that ‘G’ is 5G.

To ensure maximum confusion and to dodge any awkward questions to which the obvious answer is: "it’s not really 5G", AT&T slapped the word "Evolution" after it and called it good.

AT&T may argue that some elements of 4.5G, and the customer experience they deliver, represent an evolutionary step towards 5G.

That may be true to an extent, but this hack would counter by suggesting that ‘5G Evolution’, if anything, sounds like an evolution of 5G, not 4G. Therefore, ‘4G Evolution’ would at least be a more accurate lipstick-on-a-pig label than ‘5G Evolution’.

Anyway, AT&T’s 4.5G network, sorry, ‘5G Evolution’ network, uses carrier aggregation, 4×4 multiple input, multiple output (MIMO), and 256 quadrature amplitude modulation (QAM).

The service went live in Austin, Texas on Wednesday, and offers twice the downlink speed compared to a standard 4G network.

In order to experience the telco’s ingenious marketing ploy, customers need to get themselves a Samsung Galaxy S8 or S8+. The flagship smartphone has the requisite Qualcomm X16 LTE modem, which supports maximum throughput of 1 Gbps on the downlink and 150 Mbps on the uplink.

"Our 5G Evolution in Austin gives our customers a taste of the future," claimed David Christopher, AT&T’s chief marketing officer.

Indianapolis will be the next location to get 5G Evolution, as AT&T seeks to roll it out in 20 metro areas by the end of 2017.

T-Mobile US’s chief technology officer, Neville Ray, was quick to pour scorn on the announcement.

Taking to Twitter, he announced the launch of T-Mobile’s "7G Eventual" service, which uses "very exciting, already existing technology."



However, T-Mobile US is not innocent when it comes to getting carried away with naming its mobile services.

The ITU in late 2010 decreed that the term ‘4G’ could be applied to forerunners of LTE-Advanced and WiMAX-Advanced – provided the technology offered a substantial improvement over standard 3G performance.

U.S. telcos did not need any more encouragement, and Verizon, Sprint and MetroPCS labelled their LTE services as 4G services. Soon, every operator the world over was doing the same thing.

However, T-Mobile US and AT&T pushed the boundaries of credibility just that little bit further, applying the 4G moniker to their HSPA+ services.

The practice didn’t go unnoticed; former ITU Secretary General Hamadoun Toure even spoke to Total Telecom about it in 2011 (research subscription required).

To avoid a repeat of such misbehaviour in the age of 4.5G and LTE-Advanced Pro, Total Telecom is calling for an immediate ban on acts of jumping the gun when it comes to naming mobile technology.