AT&T slapped down for its '5GE' ads: You don’t have a proper 5G network, so stop saying so, says watchdog

Pah, fine, OK, we’ll do what you say... in marketing, pouts telco to NARB

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Someone shocked by 5G

AT&T has been officially slapped down by America's National Advertising Review Board (NARB) for its 5G Evolution campaign in which it branded its phone and network 5G E, despite not deploying full 5G technology.

“A panel of the National Advertising Review Board has recommended that AT&T Services discontinue its '5G Evolution' and '5G Evolution, The First Step to 5G' claims,” the self-regulatory body ruled on Wednesday.

It went on: “The NARB panel determined that both claims will mislead reasonable consumers into believing that AT&T is offering a 5G network and recommended that the claims be discontinued.”

Amazingly, despite AT&T being roundly mocked for its campaign – which, among other things, placed a “5GE” logo in the icon-bar along the top of its phones to dress up its 4G/LTE network as full 5G – AT&T fought against the censure, even appealing a previous recommendation that it stop.

The NARB noted straight though you suspect with a smirk: “It was not disputed that the AT&T network is not a 5G network.”

It also disagreed with AT&T that people would know the "E" meant "Evolution," as in the network will eventually evolve into a full 5G network, rather than think it's, er, 5G. And the watchdog pointed out, quite reasonably, that “the current prevalent technology in wireless is 4G LTE, and LTE stands for ‘evolution’.” Bam!

Baby steps

Likewise the nonsense claim that adding the words “the first step” before 5G also indicated that it wasn’t actually 5G didn't go down well: “The panel noted that a reasonable consumer could conclude that the reference to ‘The First Step to 5G’ was the advertiser's way of promoting a 5G network, while promising an even more robust 5G network at a later time.”

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In other words, come on, AT&T, give us a break.

Why did AT&T go down this crazy route in the first place? Collective industry madness is the only decent explanation. For reasons that continue to baffle us, the mobile industry mass lobbying around the term “5G” has been unbelievably effective.

Likewise 5G hype has resulted in the FCC passing several serious rules in the network operators’ favor, including several that have infuriated state and local governments and led to lawsuits. But high on its own supply, America's mobile industry then started pumping out its own 5G propaganda, insisting it had the best 5G networks and was ahead of the rest of the world, even as journalists repeatedly and tediously pointed out the fact that 5G is still in its very early stages and current rollouts are extremely limited.

Sibling rivalry

What drove AT&T to appeal the obvious decision against its nonsense 5G Evolution campaign? More than likely the fact that T-Mobile US, which loves nothing more than trolling its competitors, lodged the complaint. And that’s not forgetting that Sprint actually sued AT&T over the same thing.

And even though the entire world knows that AT&T got carried away with this one, it still insists it was right. From the NARB announcement: “AT&T stated that it ‘respectfully disagrees with the reasoning and result reached by the Panel majority,’ and reiterated its position that its customers nationwide continue to benefit from dramatically superior speeds and performance that AT&T's current network provides.”

Despite this petulance, AT&T has nevertheless said that “as a supporter of the self-regulatory process, it will comply with the NARB's decision," in that it will ditch the 5GE from its marketing. The logo will remain on phones. ®

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