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AT&T’s “5G E” is slower than Verizon and T-Mobile 4G, study finds (arstechnica.com)
340 points by sinak 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 109 comments

Carriers don't even fully provide what 4G is capable of, yet still advertising so-called 5G. I would be okay with 50gbit 4G LTE with an unlimited plan for the next 5 years at least until they figure out their new gimmicks.

That would be awesome. I could blow through my monthly data cap in 0.68 seconds...

I like Google Fi's model. You pay for what you use. A data cap is necessary when you want to sell "unlimited" but $x/gb makes more sense.

50Gbit/s = 6,25GB/s; if your cap was 25GB it would take 4 seconds.

My cap is 4GB. Verizon. :(

Don’t most mobile carriers cap at 5GB?

No. Most unlimited plans start deprioritization after 22GB.

It's 50GB now. I've been digging into how they do it as I'm a casual user of a few hundred GB/mo on both T-Mobile and Sprint.

From what I can see and from the Sprint CTO's comments, the deprioritization happens on radio layer working on slices of around 30ms. If you are near cell edge, the scheduler will assign you less physical resource blocks. This deprioritization will affect you much less if you are near the tower as higher orders of modulation and less error correction plays into it. (Think out of a possible 100 or so blocks you could be assigned in a given timeframe, the blocks can either be slow due to poor radio conditions or fast)

From my year or so of having a dedicated testing phone on T-Mobile, I can feel confident in saying what they say is true about speeds only being affected on congested sectors (not the full tower or region). Sprint I haven't had as much time with so I can only go with what they say is the case.

Ah, Verizon is still 22GB for the "new verizon unlimited plan" and "Beyond unlimited". "Above unlimited" is 75GB, and "Go unlimited" deprioritization is possible from the start.

I'm still on the "new verizon unlimited plan" which is the same that "beyond unlimited" provides, just at a cheaper price.

Nice... I need to do some shopping for mobile plans. Thanks!

My last plan with AT&T I think was 10 or 15GB/month with rollover, which I had accumulated something like 30GB of data saved up over the last year.

Then one day I got a text saying I had used all my data for the month, and I thought this was quite strange.

I logged in to see the usage, and AT&T gives you an itemized bill showing data usage almost minute by minute — I think the resolution is 5 minutes intervals.

Lo and behold they claimed I used 22GB in one 5 minute interval at some random point during the afternoon that day.

I called about a half dozen times to complain and try to get it adjusted. The agents would say crazy things like, “well were you watching a video?”, or “did you download a large email attachment?”

It didn’t matter that the iPhone they said did the download showed totally normal data usage stats on the phone itself. It didn’t even matter that moving that much data in 5 minutes was technically impossible. Even when I finally got an agent to admit it must be an error and that it would be impossible to move 22GB in 5 minutes, they said they would escalate the issue and then nothing ever happened.

I never got those rollover data bytes back, and ultimately had to switch to an unlimited plan to protect from the fake overages.

So I do worry about massive theoretical maximum throughout resulting in obscene charges with no way for the customer to prove the data transfer never happened.

What the hell, I don't even think that's theoretically possible considering their network speeds. Like even if you were downloading 1 22gb file that would take hours

I've never understood that line of reasoning... Does this mean anything at all? I want to watch videos, stream music and load pages as fast as possible. This is, occasional downloads. The fact that I have 50 Gbps doesn't mean I will spend all day using 100% of it.

Presumably it comes from a combination of things, e.g. 1. Streaming higher quality video. 2. Using mobile more often instead of needing to find WiFi. 3. Changing behavior to do things that you couldn’t before on a slower connection. 4. Faster rate of consumption due to faster load times.

I do all those things, and in two months I’ve used 17 gigs on my iPhone XR. I’ve got eight devices on a Verizon unlimited plan with 25G soft cap, and I’ve never come up to the point where I’ve been throttled.

When I had a long bus commute (around an hour) I used over 10gb a week watching youtube

Sounds like a (theoretical, I know) solution would be to limit carriers to advertising no more than their current rolling average of download speed across all users.

No one needs mention the obvious incentivizing to cut off all of the slowest areas/device/customers.

I just think being required to report something based an 'actual' performance as opposed to 'vague technical term' could be more informative and shift all this handwaving over to a 'look, we've improved out actual throughput!' basis.

Given all the perverse incentives involved, this seems like something the FCC should do on their own and make public.

Are there rules for enforcing (and by whom?) the term “5G”? Or is it like the word “natural” for health food?

4G was supposed to achieve 100mbit peaks and I have yet to see speeds even approaching this with 4G LTE. So if somebody is enforcing advertising rules they're doing a shit job...

LTE's initial iterations were actually not considered 4G by definition. Part of the longterm evolution part was that as the components were upgraded they would comply with 4G. I can break 100mbps down in a few places on an iphone SE with only a cat3 modem, but that's pushing the spec's real-world limit for that.

Today these speeds are easily achievable on most networks, it's just unlikely for AT&T due to congestion and their poor network and spectrum planning. It helps to spend money on capex instead of buying up shitty Mexican carriers and DirecTV to stem the flow of fleeing customers.

I was about to say that it was mostly Sprint and (again) AT&T advertising 3G as 4G, and for example Verizon had real 4G from the start.

But now as I think, I remember that Verizon had 4G that was capped to about 1mbps in certain areas and then gradually speed increased per area.

That was a bit of a mess. Technically, no carrier at the time had a "real" 4G network, according to the ITU- only LTE-Advanced and WiMAX 2 met their definition.

Since the ITU had declared that Sprint's WiMAX network and Verizon's LTE network weren't real 4G, T-Mobile decided that they could call their (just-as-fast-as-early-LTE-networks) HSPA+ network 4G too, and then AT&T was almost forced to follow suit because T-Mobile was advertising how their 4G network was so much bigger than everyone else's.

It should be noted that T-Mobile was the only one set up to deploy DC-HSPA+ at 42mbps peak theoretical. Scratching around 30mbps was around what Verizon could do before congestion set in on band 13. AT&T to the best of my knowledge only had HSPA+ at 21mbps, so it really was way more of a stretch for them to call their network 4G.

So at least, yeah... tmo kinda could have argued it was similar to early '4G' radio technologies on speed alone.

Some LTE service out there is worse than properly tuned non-HSPA 3G.

They were 4G by definition because the definition of 4G is the 4th generation, and LTE is *clearly" that, despite what some idiots in the ITU may try and claim.

The 3G/4G/etc labels are descriptive, not prescriptive.

Please don't let a phone company hear you say that, they'll roll the "g" number every year because there's a new generation of firmware. Words should, and do, mean things.

I didn't say they don't mean things. And phone companies are welcome to try and call whatever they like 5G but it doesn't make it true, any more than the ITU trying to claim some technology is or is not 5G. What makes something 5G is that it is a widely adopted technology that is a clear generation ahead of 4G. That's it. It's not complicated.

I was I was under the impression that hspa(?) was 4G, and LTE was ~4.5G

HSDPA is part of 3G (3.5G if you like). LTE is 4G.

It depends entirely where you are. Here in Maryland I’m getting over 200 mbps down on an iPhone XR: https://www.speedtest.net/result/i/3160011117

The requirements for the proposed 4G spec are actually even higher than that -- 100Mbps was for high-mobility clients, whereas low-mobility clients were promised 1Gbps speeds.


page 9 defines high / low mobility as follows: "low mobility covers pedestrian speed, and high mobility covers high speed on highways or fast trains (60 km/h to ~250 km/h, or more)." (this is roughly 35 to 150 mph)

We are nowhere near those speeds, even on the best networks.

The ITU IMT standards are dumb and meaningless.

They just set aspirational targets, but don’t define any technology for meeting those targets. ITU jumped from 200 kbps for 3G to 1 gigabit for 4G. That was not a useful definition and the market correctly ignored it. Imagine if we had “3G” wired networking defined as 100 mbps and “4G” wired networking aspirationally defined as 10 gigabit. What would you do when the IEEE (the folks who actually make the technology) release 1G Ethernet. Would you insist on calling it 3.5G wired networking?

“4G” is LTE. It’s 4G because it’s what came after HSDPA/EVDO, not because it meets any particular ITU target.

Without any sort of backing specification, the terminology of 3G vs 4G vs 5G is dumb and meaningless, as we see with AT&T calling their network 5G (E), even though it's no better than what their competitors call 4G.

Also, it's disingenuous to describe the jump as from 200kbps to 1Gbps, since HSDPA offering 14Mbps was already being deployed prior to when this particular ITU standard came out.

(https://www.gsma.com/aboutus/gsm-technology indicates deployments of HSDPA started in 2005)

To consumers, 5G just means sufficiently faster than 4G to warrant a new number. “5G” presents an odd scenario, because there are parallel lines of evolution from what consumers currently think of as “4G.” LTE Advance Pro continues to evolve LTE, while 5G NR starts over with an incompatible air interface. Until you start using higher frequency spectrum and small cells, performance wise there is a lot of overlap between the two. An LTE Advance Pro network with a lot of spectrum is going to perform better than a 5GNR network without as much spectrum.

The problem here appears to be not that AT&T is departing from the ITU monikers, or using 5G to refer to LTE Advance Pro, but that it’s selling something as “5G” that’s not faster than “4G.”

>The ITU IMT standards are dumb and meaningless.

The last time AT&T did this the ITU's response was "4G can now also be 3G with 'substantial improvements'"

Source: http://www.itu.int/net/pressoffice/press_releases/2010/48.as...

LTE does achieve up to 100 Mbps on a highway for me in Serbia, and LTE Advanced does up to 150 Mbps while stationary in a crowded city area with a base station far away. However, that is nowhere near 1 Gbps. I don't know any devices getting over 300 Mbps over LTE Advanced (4G+).

4G was originally supposed to be gigabit before carriers started branding LTE as 4G.

LTE was supposed to be 4G, before carriers starting branding HSPA+ as 4G.

They seem to be branding LTE as even better than 4G. My phone has an "LTE" indicator on top most of the time, but it switches to "4G" when I'm in a basement parking garage with lousy reception.

I'm not sure what these terms mean, and the phone/service didn't exactly come with a user manual.

I can easily get over 100Mbps on LTE, this is what I'm getting now: https://www.speedtest.net/result/a/4793874317

Nice. Can I get this all over Krakow on a tourist Sim?

When it comes to this "Play" carrier in Poland high speeds are for contracts, prepaid SIMs are limited to 70 Mbps

Ookla just told me I am getting 85Mbps download and 11Mbps upload on AT&T LTE.

76 down, 49 up with Google Fi on a Pixel 2 for me

I got a 312 Mbit download Speed test the other day on my S10+. I will not be accepting Telstra's free Samsung S10 5g upgrade offer.

This probably depends heavily on where you live, but I can easily get ~150 Mbps up and down on LTE, in Washington state.

I can get around 100 here with my Verizon hotspot.


Most places seem to be around the 40mbps mark but when visiting SoCal it drops to anywhere from 2mbps to 30.

I'm on AT&T (personal phone) and I get 4.5M bits down on LTE. My Verizon LTE (work phone) gets very similar. Both are iPhones and completely up to date.

I could be near enough to the towers that my fillings start to ache and I still can't get any faster.

My record with Verizon is 104 down and 35 up. It all seems to depend on how busy the tower is and how good the backhaul is.

I get about 2mbit w/ 4G LTE on a ~$50 plan... For the first week my phone showed 80-115mbit but that didn't last.

My carrier tells me that in order to downgrade my plan I would have to first cancel my phone number and wait a month.

I get 18mbit down, 4 up on the lowest end pre-paid tmobile plan. But I'm also in the suburbs of large metro areas where the networks are fairly well built out. However, this is one of the reasons I pay full price on my phone and stick to pre paid. Lot's more flexibility to up stakes and move to a different carrier if they start downgrading service.

I'm on prepaid but I'm paying for data consumption I just don't utilize given the abysmal speeds. I have to use a mobile VPN just to achieve decent peering.

Basically to get around this absurd policy I have to switch to another carrier and back over two months. However, I don't plan to switch back once I make the jump.

In the last year I've traveled to a couple states and a few dozen cities and I had garbage speed and latency in all of them. T-Mobile's solution was that I buy a new phone. But the phone achieved 100mbit when I first got my plan.

Just got 140Mbps in London https://i.imgur.com/DFpZAg8.png

Blame your carrier. I get 82Mbps in upload and 10Mbps in download. Can't complain for €6/month.

My phone regularly downloads faster than 50 Mb/s during peak. Good enough for me. (Prague, CZ)

I am in downtown Denver Colorado and can’t even reach 10Mbps on 4G LTE (Att).

In the Czech Republic, on a prepaid SIM card, I received around 50Mbps, many years ago.

I have zero trust in these wireless generation differences. There are so many other variables in end-user speed.

I'm 15 minutes south of Denver and outside my house I barely get 2 bars of LTE and speeds are awful.

Centennial here - 9Mbps download / 0.9Mbps upload

I’m in Centennial and get ~45Mbps down 7Mbps up with Verizon. Who are you with?

Most of the time you can feel the difference in "wireless generation differences." But USA isn't one of them.

The “G” standards have always been more marketing than anything else. This whole scandal already happened when some carriers decided to call EDGE “3G”

AT&T also tried to call HSPA+ 4G while Verizon had LTE, and switched the indicators on the iPhone IIRC.

“5G” isn’t a well defined term. In theory, it includes both LTE and 5GNR (the OFDM based “new radio” air interface) on parallel tracks: https://www.edn.com/5G/4458325/What-is-5G-NR

5GNR (3GPP release 15) is the official globally recognized standard for 5G. Guessing 3GPP has some loose enforcement but not sure.


In the US, ITU will just move the goalposts for 4G like they did for 3G when AT&T changed the hspa+ indicator to 4G.

3GPP has no teeth here.

> Are there rules for enforcing (and by whom?) the term “5G”? Or is it like the word “natural” for health food?

Alternatively, they can slowly phase out 4g like they did with 3G. This is very useful if you have pesky customers stuck on cheap all you can eat data plans.

The paranoid part of me wonders if it'll be an excuse to shunt people off of cheap plans.

The scam is much more obvious, AT&T wants to show everyone that they have 5G while everyone else has 4G, and that’s one extra G.

Alternatively, they can slowly phase out 4g like they did with 3G. This is very useful if you have pesky customers stuck on cheap all you can eat data plans.

The funny thing is that all that used 3G gear, at least the good stuff, seems to have gone to the deeply rural areas.

I know a few towns that, as recently as last month, only have 3G service. But the data speeds I get roaming there on 3G are almost double what I get at home on AT&T with full bars of LTE.

Reminds me of that Parks and Rec episode where Tom (character) puts a spin on municipal water with fluoride.


Bandwidth doesnt matter so much as latency. The only thing keeping me from using 4G tether as a main connection is the 150ms ping. 5G is supposed to get this under 5ms. I see no mention of latency in this study, which makes me question the source.

4G should be able to give pings much lower than 150ms. The internet says 50ms I have seen even faster.

Maybe you can try another provider.

I’m showing a consistent ~150ms to all nearby servers right now on T-mobile.

Either way, it’s more than 10x difference. 50ms vs 5ms is the difference between being able to game and not.

34ms on Verizon with an iPhone XS in the burbs.

Just got 27ms in the city on Verizon on iphone X

Here's a speedtest over 4G LTE... Serbia with Telenor. https://www.speedtest.net/result/8133950542

Crazy, I didn't know Telenor was in Serbia.

I have a mobile provider that uses their network here in Norway, I got 171/40 and 22 ms ping. I'm in the countryside approximately 50 km from Oslo.

They're not anymore. Telenor in the Balkans was sold to PPF Group. They new owners raised prices a lot, and they have a license to call the company Telenor for 5 years.

About 16 KM outside Boston, I get 150/25 w/ a 40 ms ping on and iPhone X with intel modem on ATT LTE.

This is Marketing 101 on how to make your customers and potential customers feel that you're ahead of the curve when you're really behind and you need to buy some time.

Also, haven't we all learned yet that the publicity and discussion this is generating reenforces the connection between AT&T and 5G in people's minds, even if it's technically incorrect? The facts don't really matter.

Clearly the solution is for Verizon to call their network "6G E"

Fuck everything, we're doing 7G.

Lol this onion article was posted in '04 and what do you know, Gillette is actually up to 5 blades and 2 strips - "Fusion5"

Speed isn't everything though. I only get 40Mbps but the network is reliable and I can tether (just retrieved 4 gigabyte from my seedbox).

Do not let carriers blind you with fancy numbers.

Still waiting for the Java-style version increment, where 5.1G comes out and someone starts marketing it as 51G. "It's 47Gs better than T-Mobile!!111!"

Yeah and I get 220 mbps down on 4g prepaid tourist SIM in Singapore so what the?

I get 25 mbps on my cable connection... for $30/month...

Just got 800 Kbps on a speed test. That's on "4G" in the UK.

Do all countries have telecom companies that are jerks ? I thought it was limited to Germany and US.

Dirtbag AT&T always doing shady stuff like this. Wouldn't be surprised if someone proposed this and execs signed it off as a great idea because the revenue from the additional signups was determined to be greater than the expected fines.

Just like the meme: Well Yes, But Actually No

You would think the FCC would have something to say about this.

I can’t find anything in the Communications Act of 1934 that gives the FCC jurisdiction over marketing practices.

What makes you think the FCC doesn't have jurisdiction over deceptive marketing?

What makes you think they do?

IANAL, but Truth in Advertising[1] enforcement is a FTC affair, not FCC.

On the other hand, rayiner is, so there a benefit-of-the-doubt element that I'm inclined to respect.

EDIT: ...and I humbly stand corrected.

[1] https://www.ftc.gov/about-ftc/bureaus-offices/bureau-consume...

47 USC 201 gives the FCC certain authority over “charges, practices, classifications, and regulations,” which the FCC has used as authority to regulate deceptive and misleading billing practices. The FCC doesn’t have plenary authority over communications advertising.

because deceptive marketing is a consumer protection thing the FTC would go after

Somebody better tell the fcc then! https://transition.fcc.gov/eb/tcd/mktg.html

What's deceptive about calling something "5G"? It means "fifth generation". I would say the problem is the root terminological choice to identify systems by names that are completely devoid of meaning, not AT&T's subsequent choice to apply the existing terminology correctly (!).

The "5" in "5G" is just a version number; it ticks up whenever someone decides they want it to.

FCC is allowed to regulate specific terms like what internet qualifies as broadband. Curious how it applies here.

The FTC does though. It's a shame different departments of the same body seem to act as completely sovereign and unattached nations of bureaucracy though.

"All four major carriers have rolled out LTE-Advanced. But while Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile accurately call it 4G, AT&T calls it 5G E."

"AT&T's network name change may well trick consumers into thinking they're getting better service than a 4G operator, but they aren't. We already knew that 5G E has no technological advantage over LTE-Advanced, because they are the same thing with different names."

Doesn't that mean this, for all intents and purposes, isn't really the 5G we're all thinking of and that this is just massive click bait?

It’s not clickbait. AT&T is pretending to have 5G when it doesn’t. This is worth reporting.

They’ve done this all the way back to 4G. I know because I used to sell cellphones when I was I college. It was 3G but they called it 4G. They’ve done that with every new iteration. It’s ATT being ATT. Why they haven’t gotten in trouble for this shady practice is beyond me.

Massive amounts of money and a complicit FCC?

> ...a complicit FCC?

What role do you think the FCC has here?

If anything, this is a Truth in Advertising[1] issue--enforced by the FTC, not FCC.

[1] https://www.ftc.gov/about-ftc/bureaus-offices/bureau-consume...

Last time "4G" HSPA was legitimately faster than 4G WiMax but this time they have no excuse (so far).

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