Sprint Sues AT&T Over ‘Deception’ of 5G Claims

Rivals are hammering AT&T for rebranding 4G LTE as '5GE'

Sprint claims AT&T's 5GE branding is causing harm to 5G's reputation. - Credit by AT&T
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Sprint is suing AT&T over a recent rebrand of some of its advanced 4G LTE networks as “5G Evolution (5GE),” claiming that it’s false advertising that harms the reputation of the legitimate next generation of wireless technology.

AT&T says that the 5GE label, which began appearing in the upper corner of subscribers’ phones this year, clearly signifies “an evolutionary step to standards-based 5G” and not 5G itself, which is expected to eventually boost speeds by between 10 and 100 times what are currently available. But Sprint argues that confusion around that point is already costing it monetary harm in its quest to build a legitimate 5G network.

The lawsuit, first reported by Engadget, marks the strongest salvo yet from the rest of the industry over AT&T’s controversial move, which rival carriers have previously attacked in strongly worded letters, full-page newspaper ads and mocking tweets.

“The significance of AT&T’s deception cannot be overstated,” Sprint’s lawyers write in the lawsuit. “[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.”

AT&T said in a statement that its customers “love” the new 5GE designation as an indication of faster LTE speeds and understand the distinction between it and actual 5G.

“We understand why our competitors don’t like what we are doing, but our customers love it,” an AT&T spokesperson said. “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.’”

Sprint countered AT&T’s claim with a survey commissioned for the purposes of its lawsuit, which found that 54 percent of consumers believe 5GE to be the same as or better than 5G and that 43 percent expect a phone from AT&T to be 5G-capable, even though such devices have yet to hit the market.

Sprint’s lawyers reportedly approached AT&T and asked it to suspend its marketing around 5GE before going forward with the suit, but the carrier refused, according to the Washington Post.

Spokespeople for Verizon and T-Mobile both referred to past statements criticizing 5GE when asked whether they would be following Sprint’s lead in taking legal action.


@patrickkulp patrick.kulp@adweek.com Patrick Kulp is an emerging tech reporter at Adweek.