The war of words between America's top carriers over 5G branding has now devolved into a lawsuit. AT&T started this whole mess then it decided to relabel its LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) network as 5G Evolution (5G E). Competing carriers cried foul as 5G E is little more than extension of 4G LTE technology and is in no way true 5G.
Sprint, the fourth-place wireless carrier, has now filed a lawsuit against AT&T for its blatantly misleading advertising. "AT&T has sought to gain an unfair advantage in the race to 5G by embarking on a nationwide advertising campaign to deceive consumers into believing that its existing 4G LTE Advanced network is now a 5G network," says Sprint in the filing.
"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 truth is that the network AT&T advertises as ‘5GE’ offers consumers the same service as its 4G LTE Advanced service, which was already available to AT&T customers and has been deployed by all four national carriers."
Sprint is right in this instance; all of the "Big Four" wireless carriers have deployed LTE-A networks in select markets, but only AT&T has decided to go one step further by trying to piggyback on the emergence of true 5G networks as a competitive advantage.
Although we have to take Sprint's own carrier-commissioned survey results with a grain of salt, it says that 54 percent of consumers think that 5G E is at least the same or even better than true 5G technology. It also found that 43 percent of respondents said that they would consider buying an AT&T phone labeled as 5G E, as they believe that they would be receiving a true 5G smartphone. Not surprisingly, this is exactly what AT&T is banking on.
"If I now occupy beachfront real estate in our competitors' heads, that makes me smile," AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan said at CES last month. "Every company is guilty of building a narrative of how you want the world to work. 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."
Sprint's optimal resolution would be for AT&T to stop this fake 5G campaign, as its behavior "violates federal and state laws governing false advertising and deceptive acts and practices, and must be immediately enjoined."
Other wireless rivals like T-Mobile have merely mocked AT&T's 5G E branding, while Verizon has pushed out a more formal rebuke of the consumer trickery, saying in a statement, "We won’t take an old phone and just change the software to turn the 4 in the status bar into a 5. We will not call our 4G network a 5G network if customers don’t experience a performance or capability upgrade that only 5G can deliver."
Updated 2/8/2019 @ 1:45pm
AT&T has issued the following statement in response to the lawsuit:
We understand why our competitors don’t like what we are doing, but our customers love it. We introduced 5G Evolution more than two years ago, clearly defining it as an evolutionary step to standards-based 5G. 5G Evolution and the 5GE indicator simply let customers know when their device is in an area where speeds up to twice as fast as standard LTE are available. That’s what 5G Evolution is, and we are delighted to deliver it to our customers.
We will fight this lawsuit while continuing to deploy 5G Evolution in addition to standards-based mobile 5G. Customers want and deserve to know when they are getting better speeds. Sprint will have to reconcile its arguments to the FCC that it cannot deploy a widespread 5G network without T-Mobile while simultaneously claiming in this suit to be launching ‘legitimate 5G technology imminently.'