Sprint sues AT&T over ‘5G E’ marketing, calling it deceptive and misleading

Doris Richards
February 9, 2019

AT&T's peers have criticized its use of the "5G E" designation it started displaying on smartphones last month as misleading and "fake 5G", but Sprint's lawsuit filed Thursday takes it up another notch.

Sprint will seek a temporary restraining order against AT&T to cease the 5GE commercials and labeling as soon as possible, a lawyer for the company said. 5GE is not 5G, it's not better, and no current AT&T phone will ever connect to a real 5G network.

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 U.S. have mobile phones, carriers these days typically acquire new customers by pulling them away from competitors. Despite that, AT&T has been advertising this supposed upgrade to 5G E and even changing network indicators on smartphones from 4G to 5G E.

No ordinary phones on the market can yet connect to faster 5G networks, but several are expected soon from Samsung, Lenovo's Motorola, and others. This decision to brand 4G LTE Advanced connections as 5G E is one that's drawn a lot of ire from consumers and competitors alike, but AT&T pushed forward, releasing advertisements touting 5G Evolution and updating phones on its network to carry the questionable branding. As 4G LTE will be aggregated with 5G-NR in 5G networks, AT&T could also argue (accurately) that LTE is a component of 5G, so they might as well call it 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. "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". Specifically, Sprint is suing AT&T for "false advertising" and "deceptive acts", noting that some customers will believe they have access to a 5G network when, in reality, they do not.

"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.

'But calling its network 5GE does not make it a 5G network and instead deceives customers into believing it is something it is not, ' it continues. "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.'" Sprint and T-Mobile are still awaiting the fate of their proposed merger. The carrier is now in the process of trying to merge with rival T-Mobile.

"I don't think AT&T's use of "5G E" is Sprint's biggest problem", Piecyk said. "That's what 5G Evolution is, and we are delighted to deliver it to our customers", said AT&T.

Sprint said that a survey showed 54 percent of AT&T's consumers believed their "5G E" network is the same as or better than a 5G network and 43 percent said if they buy an AT&T phone today, it would be capable of running on 5G.

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

Other reports by Iphone Fresh

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