AT&T is getting a rough time from competitors over its 5G-E, but the company’s CEO says it’s putting a smile on his face.

“If I now occupy beachfront real estate in our competitors’ heads, that makes me smile,” said AT&T CEO John Donovan during an appearance on stage at CES this week.

The company stirred up some controversy with its decision to put a ‘5G-E’ indicator on smartphones connected to its gigabit LTE network. Rivals, industry experts, and more technical consumers have called it misleading.

AT&T’s defence is the ‘E’ represents ‘Evolution’ as gigabit LTE will form a foundation of its 5G network.

Critics believe less technical consumers will believe they’ve been gifted a magical upgrade to 5G without the expected performance benefits .

“Every company is guilty of building a narrative of how you want the world to work,” Donovan said. “And I love the fact that we broke our industry’s narrative two days ago, and they’re frustrated and gonna do what they’re gonna do.”

Rivals are concerned that lacklustre performance and subscribers believing they have 5G will damage industry uptake as full rollouts occur. The idea AT&T was first to offer 5G also gives the network a psychological advantage in purchase decisions.

Verizon went as far as to publish a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, USA Today, and Washington Post.

While the ad didn’t call out AT&T directly, CTO Kyle Malady wrote: “The potential to overhype and underdeliver on the 5G promise is a temptation that the wireless industry must resist.”

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