Although 5G smartphones are expected to arrive later this year - and some will likely appear at Mobile World Congress later this month - there is no 5G service currently available.
What's more, a 5G iPhone isn't expected to go on sale until the fall of 2020, joining the party a year late, just as Apple did with the 4G iPhone 5 back in 2012.
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Despite this, iPhone owners installing the latest beta of iOS 12.2 this week have discovered that, in some cases, their phone has begun displaying '5G E' on the status bar, where 'LTE' or '4G' was previously shown. MacRumors was first to report this.
Apple has not magically installed new 5G-enabled chips with the software update, but instead it is promoting AT&T's misleading '5G Evolution' service, which uses the same basic networking technology as 4G (also known as LTE), but offers a minor speed bump.
AT&T users have begun seeing the misleading 5G icon on their iPhonesMacRumors
To be clear, this is not 5G. The fifth generation of mobile technology is not available anywhere yet. This somewhat misleading move, which will surely confuse customers and make them think they have 5G already, echoes the stunt pulled by Apple and AT&T in 2012, when 3G iPhones displayed '4G' when connected to AT&T's HSPA+ network, which was a faster version of 3G, but certainly not 4G.
Even the original iPhone, released back in 2007, was guilty of mislabeling. AT&T SIM cards included with the phone, which was sold exclusively on that network at the time, included a 3G icon, despite the first iPhone only offering 2G connectivity.
The incorrect 5G labels encouraged rival network T-Mobile to have some fun, posting on Twitter: "Didn't realize it was this easy, brb updating", followed by a video of someone sticking a piece of paper with '5G' written on it over the LTE logo of their iPhone X.
AT&T describes its 5G Evolution network, which is available in some 400 markets across the US, as the "first step on the road to 5G", adding: "How are we doing it? With enhancements like carrier aggregation to add more 'lanes' to the highway that data travels on. 4x4 MIMO to double the number of antennas that can send data back and forth. And 256 QAM to make data transmission more efficient. All this adds up to faster speeds for you."
In response to the 5G E logo appearing in iOS 12.1, AT&T said: "Today, some iPhone and iPad users start seeing our 5G Evolution indicator on their devices. The indicator simply helps customers know when they are in an area where the 5G Evolution experience may be available."
On the contrary, we believe that customers will be confused by 5G appearing on their iPhones.