National Advertising Review Board finally tells AT&T to stop lying about 5G

‘5G Evolution’ or ‘5Ge’ has been a controversial campaign from AT&T because it is effectively lying to its customers, but now the telco has been told to stop the foolishness.

The telco has persisted with the branding exercise, despite widespread criticism from all corners of the industry, though the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) will hopefully put an end to the misleading statements. It is quite frankly absurd that the telco has been allowed to carry on making such deceptive claims for this long.

Like the National Advertising Division (NAD), the NARB has come to the conclusion that the overall messaging implies that 5G is here. Despite the assertions from AT&T, the inclusion of ‘evolution’ does not inform the customer of an on-going technological journey and some may believe the telco is delivering a service which it is not.

“The Panel agreed with NAD’s conclusion that the addition of ‘The First Step in 5G’ does not cure the concern that consumers could reasonably take away the message that beginning 5G technology is delivered,” the NARB said in a statement.

“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, especially since the slogan is being used in conjunction with ‘5G Evolution’.”

Starting back in January 2019, AT&T unveiled a new logo in the corner of its customer’s devices; 5Ge. Some might have assumed they were getting 5G services, a very forgivable mistake, but the presence of a 5Ge symbol actually meant 4G LTE Advanced services had been activated.

This does mean improved download speeds, but it does not mean 5G. AT&T is little more a snakeskin oil salesman.

Amazingly, while most companies would have admitted the error of their ways and retreated cap in hand, AT&T persisted with the campaign, even insisted there was absolutely nothing wrong with misleading its customers. It shows a lack of respect for its customers and an executive team which has the same moral code as an unsupervised baby kicker in a nursery.

Although this is a self-regulated element of the industry, there have been two official bodies appointed; the NAD and the NARB. The NAD is the investigatory arm, while the NARB handles any further disputes which may emerge.

In this case, T-Mobile made a complaint to the NAD, which sided against AT&T, believing the ‘5Ge’ position to be misleading. AT&T appealed this decision that the two claims (‘5G Evolution’ and ‘5G Evolution, The First Step to 5G’) should be discontinued. In such disputes, the NARB steps in to be the final voice, and fortunately its voice today is very reasonable.

AT&T has said that while it disagrees with the opinion of the NARB, it will respect the decision and stop promoting ‘5Ge’ and all other associated messaging.

For those who take a more reasoned and rational view of the US telecoms industry, this is a decision which will bring some relief. AT&T was toying with its own credibility with this misleading campaign, and as a result, was undermining the fragile confidence which is currently placed in 5G.

5G is currently viewed as a premium service for two reasons; firstly, it is not ubiquitous, and secondly, 4G satisfies the download demands of the vast majority. If telcos are going to convince consumers to migrate to 5G services, most likely paying a premium as a result, they will need to be convinced it is actually worth the hassle and the expense.

The 5G proposition which is being delivered today over mmWave is falling short of expectations, though the low-band service offered by T-Mobile is also a bit of a damp squib. With actual 5G services disappointing customers, the last thing US telcos need to do is further compound the misery by selling 4G services under the guise of 5G. The trust will be further compromised, making it more difficult to generate momentum towards the new era of connectivity.

AT&T’s stubborn insistence to keep the ‘5Ge’ campaign alive was going to be little more than a net loss for itself and the industry, but hopefully the 16 months it was allowed to directly mislead customers has not done too much damage.


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NTT DoCoMo says what it thinks 6G should be all about

Japanese operator NTT DoCoMo has become one of the first industry heavyweights to lay out its vision for 6G technology and service expectations.

In a recently published whitepaper, Japan’s largest mobile operator outlined what it believed how 6G would look like, including technology requirements, service scenarios, and the next step research agenda. NTT DoCoMo becomes the latest, as well as one of the first leading telecom operators, to set down a marker in the nascent but active 6G discussion.

This document was published 40 years after the then Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Public Corporation launched what it claimed to be the world’s first cellular mobile communications service. The company believes the mobile telecom industry normally goes through a generational technology change every 10 years, while the model of value creation would undergo a step change every 20 years. It sees 5G such a step change, and 6G being an upgrade, though immensely better. The operator expects 6G service to start rolling out around 2030.

Somewhat confusingly, the NTT DoCoMo authors called the ramp up from 5G to 6G “5G Evolution”, a term that has been used by companies like AT&T and Ericsson to refer to the stage when the industry was running up from 4G to 5G, and appeared as a debatable logo on AT&T phones before the carrier’s 5G service was launched.

Source: NTT DoCoMo

Specifically, the NTT DoCoMo whitepaper lists these six technology benchmarks for 6G to achieve:

  • Extremely high-speed and high-capacity communications, e.g. peak data rate to go >100Gbps;
  • Extreme coverage extension, including coverage in high altitude, under sea, and in space;
  • Extremely low power consumption and cost reduction, including alternative charging technologies;
  • Extremely low latency, e.g. sub 1ms end-to-end latency;
  • Extremely high reliability, e.g. availability to improve from “five-nine” to “seven-nine” (99.99999%)
  • Extremely massive connectivity and sensing, e.g. handling 10 times as many connections as 5G does in comparable space

The operator sees these technology properties critical to realise the use cases ranging from the fusion between digital and physical environment and communication between humans and things to bridging the digital gap between different social groups and addressing other societal issues.

NTT DoCoMo believes the following should be the R&D focus areas in the years to come:

  • New network topology
  • Coverage extension including non-terrestrial network
  • Frequency extension and improved spectrum utilization
  • Further advancement of wireless transmission technologies
  • Enhancement for URLLC and industrial IoT networks
  • Expanded integration of variable wireless technologies
  • Multi-functionalization and AI for everywhere in mobile network

What NTT DoCoMo has laid out, despite with more details, is not too different from what the Finnish 6Genesis programme announced at last year’s Mobile World Congress, including the expected timing of 6G rollout. The industry conversation has since picked up speed, with the first 6G Wireless Summit held in the Finnish Lapland in March.

The so-called “world’s first 6G White Paper” was published in September, to which the new NTT DoCoMo whitepaper has much in common, in particular the research agenda. However, the clout of one of the world’s largest mobile operators will lend weight to the ongoing discussion of what 6G should be about. While China has also thrown its weight behind 6G, we can expect to hear more about this topic at the upcoming MWC 2020.