Sprint sues AT&T over 5G branding


AT&T customers are seeing "5G E" logo on their mobile devices in over 400 markets.

AT&T is accused of numerous acts of deliberate deception around its attempt to promote its LTE Advanced service as "5G Evolution".

Sprint said in the lawsuit that the AT&T advertising "deceives consumers" into thinking they already have access to 5G connectivity, when they are really only connected to a faster 4G network. AT&T calls it 5G Evolution, and it is meant to show when a phone is within range of its enhanced 4G network. Carriers that are perceived to offer more advanced technology then stand to gain a "significant competitive advantage" over other companies. 5G is not an incremental or backward-compatible update to existing standards, is separate from 4G standards like LTE or WiMAX, and can not be delivered to existing phones, tablets, or wireless modems by means of tower upgrades or software updates.

AT&T introduced the 5GE brand two years ago but without much fanfare.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson defended the "5G E" branding in a TV interview Friday.

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. "When we go into a market and we turn up this technology and we light up this spectrum, our customers are seeing radical increases in speed and performance on the network, and this is a step that's required to get to ultimate 5G, and it's an evolutionary step to 5G-it's a critical step". "That's what 5G Evolution is, and we are delighted to deliver it to our customers", said AT&T.

Each of the four major players in the USA telecom industry-Sprint, AT&T, Verizon Communications (VZ), and T-Mobile US (TMUS)-has been racing to deploy a next-generation 5G network, with several small-scale rollouts in a few markets already active. It's LTE Advanced. It's not 5G. Competing carriers cried foul as 5G E is little more than extension of 4G LTE technology and is in no way true 5G.

If you're an AT&T customer with a high-end handset, you may have noticed the "5GE" radio indicator pop up at the top of your screen after a recent Android update.

"We will fight this lawsuit while continuing to deploy 5G Evolution in addition to standards-based mobile 5G".

AT&T is touting its ability to achieve 1.5 Gbps in a field test using its commercial 5G network at the same time it's defending its use of the "5G E" moniker on phones, something Sprint is suing the operator over.

AT&T issued its own statement that acknowledged a distinction between its 5GE service and "standards-based 5G" service.

Executives at Verizon and T-Mobile have also criticized AT&T's move.

Sprint also argues that AT&T's deception is working on some level, citing a survey it commissioned that shows 54% of polled consumers believing that "AT&T's "5GE" network is the same as or better than a 5G network", while 43% of consumers believe that AT&T is now selling phones that are capable of connecting to 5G networks.