Sprint sues AT&T, claiming 'deceptive' and illegal 5GE branding

Sprint files lawsuit against AT&T over its misleading 5G Evolution logo

United States operator Sprint is so outraged by AT&T's attempt to rebrand its LTE-A service as 5Ge that it's taking its competitor to court over it. What AT&T touts as 5G, however, is nothing more than an enhanced fourth-generation Long Term Evolution wireless service, known as 4G LTE Advanced, which is offered by all other major wireless carriers.

AT&T started rolling out the 5GE label on smartphones last month, and now the icon is appearing on iPhones. 5GE is not 5G, it's not better, and no current AT&T phone will ever connect to a real 5G network.

The war of words between America's top carriers over 5G branding has now devolved into a lawsuit.

According to a report from Engadget, Sprint accuses AT&T of engaging in a "deceptive 5G E campaign" created to confuse and mislead customers into thinking they're enjoying true 5G support.

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. AT&T calls it 5G Evolution, and it is meant to show when a phone is within range of its enhanced 4G network. They don't think they are misleading customers, will continue to push the 5G Evolution message, and will fight Sprint's lawsuit. In those spots, AT&T is rebranding its LTE Advanced and LTE Advanced Pro technologies as 5G Evolution. Recently, Sprint, the fourth-largest mobile operator in the United States, filed a lawsuit against the US's second-largest mobile operator AT&T in the Southern District Court of NY, accusing the latter of using false 5G tags to mislead consumers.

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"We understand why our competitors don't like what we are doing, but our customers love it". Their argument is that 5G Evolution and the 5GE logo "simply let customers know their device is in an area where speeds up to twice as fast as standard LTE are available". 5G E, as AT&T claims, stands for "5G Evolution", or the precursor to the nationwide 5G networks carriers are beginning to build out. T-Mobile CEO John Legere was less restrained. We introduced 5G Evolution more than two years ago, clearly defining it as an evolutionary step to standards-based 5G.

Now there's no getting around the fact that 5G E is impressively fast, but to be clear, that's not what Sprint's lawsuit is about. AT&T's service is not 5G-ready or capable, and they have pulled stunts like this in the past. "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.

Both Verizon and T-Mobile have also called out AT&T for its marketing practices. "AT&T's false and misleading statements deceive consumers into believing that AT&T now operates a 5G wireless network and, through this deception, AT&T seeks to induce consumers to purchase or renew AT&T's services when they might otherwise have purchased Sprint's services", the suit alleges.

AT&T's strategy, which arguably amounts to trickery, has been categorized by many as misleading at best and purposefully deceptive at worst.

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