Sprint is suing AT&T for misleading consumers with "5G E" branding

Ceria Alfonso
Febrero 9, 2019

AT&T's LTE-A tech may be capable of near gigabit speeds, but 5G it most certainly is not.

AT&T started rolling out the 5GE label on smartphones last month, and now the icon is appearing on iPhones.

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.

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.

But those faster speeds are not 5G, and customers today don't own 5G-capable phones, because there are none. Yet. "It deceives consumers into believing that AT&T's mobile devices operate on a 5G network when, in truth, those "5G E" devices operate on the same 4G LTE Advanced network that those AT&T customers were already using". But AT&T could well argue that "5G" doesn't actually mean anything, or that it means what carriers say it means.

AT&T's product is "nothing more than" advanced LTE, or an advanced version of what the industry calls 4G Long Term Evolution technology, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of NY.

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.

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AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan recently defended the 5G E branding, saying AT&T's rivals are "frustrated" and that "I have now occupied beachfront real estate in my competitors' heads".

AT&T's Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson said in an interview here with CNBC that the company's customers are seeing an increase in speed and performance on the "5G E" network and this is a step required to get to "ultimate 5G".

A January report by The Wall Street Journal had noted complaints by Verizon and T-Mobile about AT&T's 5G E claims, though it failed to mention any objections by Sprint specifically. T-Mobile took to Twitter with a hilarious mockery of the branding, slapping a "9G" sticker onto an iPhone. There is the outright lie involved in suggesting something is 5G when it isn't and then there's the damage done to Sprint competitively and the outright damage done to the U.S. telecoms market by deceiving it into thinking 5G is already here. AT&T's service is not 5G-ready or capable, and they have pulled stunts like this in the past.

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. We introduced 5G Evolution more than two years ago, clearly defining it as an evolutionary step to standards-based 5G.

Shares of AT&T (t) and Sprint (s) were down 1% on Friday in midday trading.

Sprint commissioned a survey and found that 54 percent of consumers mistakenly believe AT&T's "5G E" is "the same as or better than a 5G network". 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.

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