AT&T’s “5G E” service is slower than the advanced 4G LTE networks of Verizon and T-Mobile, research by OpenSignal has found.
As Ars readers know, AT & T renamed a large portion of its 4G network, calling it “5G E,” for “5G Evolution.” If you see a 5G E indicator on an AT&T phone, that means you’re connected to a part of AT&T’s 4G LTE network that supports it. standard LTE-Advanced features such as 256 QAM, 4×4 MIMO, and three transmission modes. All four vehicles are rolling out LTE-Advanced. But while Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile call it exactly 4G, AT&T calls it 5G E.
Sprint sued AT&T, alleging that AT&T was taking an unfair advantage by making false claims and misleading customers.
AT&T’s network name change may well trick customers into thinking they’re getting better service than a 4G operator, but they’re not. We already know that 5G E has no technical advantage over LTE-Advanced, because they are the same thing with different names. But actual speed tests can strengthen that point.
Such data comes from an OpenSignal report that is set to go live this link today at 9am ET. After comparing user-initiated speed tests from more than 1 million devices, OpenSignal found that AT&T’s “5G E” phones achieved average speeds of 28.8Mbps, which was lower than T-Mobile’s 29.4Mbps and Verizon’s 29.9 Mbps but higher than Sprint’s 20.4Mbps. AT&T’s rate of 18.2Mbps on unenhanced LTE is still slightly behind T-Mobile and Verizon but ahead of Sprint:
In other words, AT&T 5G E speeds represent LTE-Advanced speeds. It’s a real upgrade over older portions of AT&T’s 4G network, but that’s true for all four carriers.
“Our analysis shows that AT&T customers with 5G E in their routers are getting up to a 60 percent boost in speeds over AT&T customers without it,” OpenSignal CEO Brendan Gill said in a statement to Ars. “Of course, our analysis also shows that the same is true for regular Verizon and T-Mobile customers even though they don’t see the ‘5G E’ logo on their device. Bottom line, if one service offers a meaningful boost. over another, it should probably be labeled differently, not with a name that confuses consumers.”
OpenSignal’s data is based on human-sourced speed tests that can be performed by anyone using OpenSignal’s tools iPhone we had Android. OpenSignal told us that today’s report is based on tests on 1,057,522 devices nationwide, across all four carriers, between January 28 and February 26.
The tests do not automatically distinguish between LTE-Advanced and regular 4G LTE networks. But OpenSignal is able to distinguish between phone models, and it compares the phones AT&T says 5G is E-powered to those who do not. The resulting data now compares LTE-Advanced phones to non-LTE-Advanced phones, regardless of whether the tests were conducted in a location where the network supports LTE-Advanced features .
When contacted by Ars, AT&T argued that this limitation results in contamination.
“The OpenSignal document shows their strategy is flawed,” AT&T told Ars. “Speed-test data purporting to reflect the ‘real-world experience of 5G Evolution’ without verifying capable devices tested in the Evolution 5G environment as shown by the reference does not accurately represent the user experience of 5G Evolution.”
But all four vendors are measured in the same way, and the resulting data can show the breadth of each operator’s LTE-Advanced deployment. Carriers that have deployed more LTE-Advanced coverage across the US will likely receive higher speed test results than carriers that have not upgraded their networks to the same extent.
AT&T has repeatedly boasted about its 5G E/LTE-Advanced footprint, saying it covers more than 400 markets across the United States. But we don’t know exactly how much LTE-Advanced coverage each provider has. If AT&T’s 5G E was significantly faster or more widespread than other operators’ LTE-Advanced service, OpenSignal’s tests probably would have found a large speed difference in AT&T’s favor. Instead, the results show the highest average speeds for Verizon and T-Mobile.
AT&T offered no further comment.
The new results are consistent with OpenSignal’s previous test. OpenSignal’s public data on 4G user experiences, released in Januaryshowed that AT&T lagged behind Verizon and T-Mobile in 4G availability, video quality, and both download and upload speeds.
OpenSignal’s testing doesn’t yet tell us what speeds customers can expect when they get real 5G. But the data shows “the extent to which LTE, or 4G, networks have improved since the original launch of LTE,” OpenSignal wrote in today’s report. The deployment of LTE-Advanced technology has created a “much faster experience than the early version of 4G launched in 2009-2011” but no real advantage for AT&T over its top rivals.
If you’ve been following the AT&T 5G E story, OpenSignal’s results won’t surprise you. But if you know anyone who was confused by AT&T’s misleading marketing, now you have some data to help clear things up.