Sprint is suing AT&T in federal court over its decision to rebrand some of its 4G LTE networks as “5G E.” The lawsuit, first spotted by Engadget, claims that consumers are likely to confuse AT&T’s so-called “5G Evolution” network with actual 5G, and will incorrectly think that AT&T’s current phones support the new standard. As well as seeking to prevent AT&T from branding anything as 5G E that doesn’t adhere to the agreed 3GPP 5G specification, Sprint is also seeking damages due to the loss of sales it claims it’s suffering as a result of AT&T’s actions.
In its legal complaint, Sprint said that it had surveyed customers and had found that 54 percent of them believed that AT&T’s “5G E” (short for “5G Evolution”) is as fast as, or faster than, actual 5G. Sprint’s CTO has previously said that AT&T’s branding “blatantly misleads” consumers who see “5G E” logos appear on both Android and iOS devices when connected to parts of AT&T’s enhanced 4G network.
AT&T is using the logo to denote parts of its 4G LTE network that support the faster LTE Advanced and Advanced Pro technologies. However, the 40Mbps speed of this 4G tech is very similar to what 4G LTE already offers, and falls short of the speeds 5G will one day be able to achieve.
Mobile carriers have been united in their condemnation of AT&T’s 5G E branding, but until now this has been limited to strongly worded statements and a single well-placed sticker. T-Mobile’s CTO said that AT&T is “duping customers” with the move, while Verizon assured its customers that it “won’t take an old phone and just change the software to turn the 4 in the status bar into a 5.”
AT&T used a similar ploy the last time carriers were tasked with rolling out next-generation mobile data. Then, the company decided to rebrand HSPA+ 3G technology as 4G.
In spite of the 5G criticism, AT&T Communication’s CEO, John Donovan, was defiant when he spoke at CES back in January. “I love the fact that we broke our industry’s narrative two days ago,” the CEO said, and dismissed the criticism as coming from his “frustrated” competitors.
AT&T might have been able to wave away previous criticism, but a fully-fledged lawsuit might be another matter if the courts are sympathetic to Sprint’s complaint.