AT&T's "5G E" slower than Verizon and T-Mobile's 4G LTE services, report finds

AT&T's "5G E" network is just LTE Advanced. An OpenSignal report finds no meaningful advantage to AT&T's network over the networks of Verizon or T-Mobile.

Separating the hype from reality in initial 5G mobile networks and smartphones James Sanders and Karen Roby discuss the immediate future of 5G mobile networks and smartphones, and how existing equipment cannot be updated to 5G via software updates.

Users of AT&T-branded smartphones began receiving software updates in January that replaced the "4G" or "LTE" icon to read "5G E," as part of the carrier's attempt to blur the lines between two fundamentally incompatible mobile network standards. The move prompted T-Mobile to mock AT&T on Twitter, while Sprint sued AT&T for deceptive marketing practices, and placed a full-page ad in the New York Times bemoaning the situation.

AT&T's purported upgrade to "5G E" is actually slower than the LTE networks of Verizon and T-Mobile, according to an OpenSignal report published Friday. AT&T's website describes the network as "our first step on the road to 5G. We're starting by enabling faster speeds on our existing LTE network—up to 2x faster than standard LTE."

SEE: 5G Research Report 2019: The enterprise is eager to adopt, despite cost concerns and availability (Tech Pro Research)

Fundamentally, and by AT&T's own admission, 5G E is LTE. An AT&T spokesperson previously confirmed to TechRepublic that this service is delivered using the LTE Advanced standard. LTE Advanced and LTE Advanced Pro offer features like 4x4 MIMO and 256QAM, which allow for Gigabit-level speeds.

These are industry standards available to—and deployed by—other mobile network operators, though only AT&T is engaging in confusing advertising practices to describe them. Of note, LTE stands for "Long Term Evolution," under the expectation that upgrades would be deployed by mobile network operators throughout the lifespan of the LTE standard.

The OpenSignal report finds that of LTE Category 16 phones, capable of utilizing the features of LTE Advanced, Verizon's network performed best on average with a download speed of 29.9 Mbps. T-Mobile was in second at 29.4 Mbps, and AT&T in third at 28.8 Mbps. For standard LTE phones, T-Mobile and Verizon were tied at 19.4 Mbps, with AT&T at 18.2 Mbps.

According to OpenSignal, "AT&T users with a 5G E-capable smartphone receive similar speeds to users on other carriers with the same smartphone models that AT&T calls 5G E. The 5G E speeds which AT&T users experience are very much typical 4G speeds and not the step-change improvement which 5G promises."

Learn more about the promises that (real) 5G offers. Check out "T-Mobile and Sprint promise low-cost 5G coverage for rural America, aiding remote workers," and TechRepublic's cheat sheet for 5G mobile networks and for 5G smartphones.

Also see

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3D composite illustrations represent the application and connection of network 5G technology.

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By James Sanders

James Sanders is a technology writer for TechRepublic. He covers future technology, including quantum computing, AI, and 5G, as well as cloud, security, open source, mobility, and the impact of globalization on the industry, with a focus on Asia.