Sprint sues AT&T over '5G' wireless branding

Judy Cobb
February 9, 2019

On Thursday, competitor Sprint went a step further and filed a lawsuit to block AT&T from using the "5GE" term, as well as label on customers' phones. The suit notes that AT&T calls its new network 5GE.

Sprint says in the lawsuit that competition within the wireless industry, specifically between the big four carriers, is fierce, and since most people in the USA have mobile phones, carriers these days typically acquire new customers by pulling them away from competitors.

Smartphones running on both Android and Apple's iOS platforms are sporting "5G E" for AT&T customers, even though those phones are not equipped to support 5G. As of this moment in February 2019, there are no 5G-capable phones available for purchase as carriers are just starting to get their 5G networks off the ground.

"But calling its network "5GE" (or "5G E" or "5G Evolution") does not make it a 5G network and instead deceives customers into believing it is something that it is not", the suit said.

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.

It appears that for now, AT&T is doubling down on the concept that consumers aren't confused by "5G E" and don't believe it's the same as 5G-NR, the technology that most of the industry calls "5G". "I received an update on my phone.to allow access to the new 5G network", one forum poster wrote.

Sprint files lawsuit against AT&T over its misleading 5G Evolution logo
Sprint is Suing AT&T Over Its Misleading ‘5G E’ Label

"AT&T has employed numerous deceptive tactics to mislead consumers into believing that it now offers a coveted and highly anticipated fifth generation wireless network, known as 5G", Sprint wrote in the 23-page lawsuit filed in federal court in NY.

"We understand why our competitors don't like what we are doing, but our customers love it", AT&T said in a statement provided to Tom's Guide.

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. T-Mobile CEO John Legere was less restrained. AT&T's service is not 5G-ready or capable, and they have pulled stunts like this in the past. It's 100% misleading garbage, that AT&T is fully aware of. "That's what 5G Evolution is, and we are delighted to deliver it to our customers", said AT&T.

"We introduced 5G Evolution more than two years ago, clearly defining it as an evolutionary step to standards-based 5G", AT&T said. Sprint will have to reconcile its arguments to the FCC 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".

"I've heard they even have plans to show a 5G network indicator for LTE on consumers" devices to hide the fact that actual 5G will be scarce, duping customers into thinking they're getting something they're not'. AT&T didn't back down after being roasted by Verizon and T-Mobile, and now it's up to a court to decide the outcome.

As "proof" non-savvy consumers are being fooled, Sprint claims a company-commissioned survey found 54 percent of consumers thought AT&T's 5GE was the same as a real 5G network.

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On the flip side, growth could slump to a potential 0.8% in 2019 should uncertainty persist and financial conditions tighten. The Reserve Bank of Australia, Bank of Korea and Bank of Thailand have also tempered their outlooks in recent weeks.

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