Sprint sues AT&T, claims ‘5G E’ branding is false advertising


The lawsuit, first reported by Engadget, focuses on the idea that consumers will purchase AT&T phones because they incorrectly believe they will provide 5G service.

Sprint has filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of NY against rival AT&T alleging its rival has misled consumers by leading them to believe they were using 5G wireless networks, a technology that has not yet been widely deployed.

According to a survey commissioned by Sprint, over half (54%) of consumers believe that "5GE" networks are the same as or better than 5G, while 43 percent think that an AT&T phone they buy today is already 5G capable.

Sprint, however, didn't take such a light-hearted approach, instead filing a lawsuit accusing AT&T of "damaging the reputation of 5G while [Sprint] works to build out a legitimate early entry into the 5G network space". AT&T started this whole mess then it chose to relabel its LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) network as 5G Evolution (5G E). "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". We are "being clear with our customers, this is an evolutionary step to 5G".

In December, Kevin Petersen, an AT&T senior vice president said in a post on the company blog that 5GE services were available in 585 markets, while standards-based 5G services were available in parts of 12 cities. Customers want and deserve to know when they are getting better speeds. In those spots, AT&T is rebranding its LTE Advanced and LTE Advanced Pro technologies as 5G Evolution.

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"Sprint will have to reconcile its arguments to the FCC [Federal Communications Commission] that it can not deploy a widespread 5G network without T-Mobile while simultaneously claiming in this suit to be launching 'legitimate 5G technology imminently'". LTE Advanced and LTE Advanced Pro offer features like 4x4 MIMO and 256QAM, which allow for Gigabit-level speeds.

Sprint is arguing that, along with AT&T's advertising campaign promoting the 5G-evolution, is meant to convince customers they are using a true 5G network when they aren't. But to be updating 4G LTE smartphones with a 5GE icon, is not a great thing. "AT&T's false and misleading statements deceive consumers into believing that AT&T now operates a 5G wireless network and, through this deception, AT&T seeks to induce consumers to purchase or renew AT&T's services when they might otherwise have purchased Sprint's services", the suit alleges. "AT&T's "5G E" network is a 4G LTE Advanced network, just like the networks of Sprint and the other major wireless service providers, none of which are mischaracterizing their 4G LTE Advanced networks as 5G".

What started out on some Android phones has now rolled over to some iPhones, and, as a result, Sprint is ready to throw down the gauntlet in front of AT&T.

In a different statement to Mobile World Live, AT&T deployed a bit of whataboutery, saying that Sprint's lawsuit contradicts its merger filing with T-Mobile. AT&T and T-Mobile were upgrading their 3G smartphones to show 4G.