Sprint suit says AT&T’s 5G E label misleads consumers in race to true 5G wireless tech

5G will impact so much more than your phone

What is 5G? In its simplest terms, it's the next generation of cellular networking. But 5G will have an impact on a lot more than just how quickly your phone downloads files or plays videos.
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What is 5G? In its simplest terms, it's the next generation of cellular networking. But 5G will have an impact on a lot more than just how quickly your phone downloads files or plays videos.

Advanced wireless 5G technology has hit the courthouse ahead of its journey to consumers’ cellphones as Sprint has charged rival AT&T with misleading customers about its current offering.

AT&T’s product is “nothing more than” advanced LTE, or an advanced version of what the industry calls 4G Long Term Evolution technology, according to the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of New York. The suit notes that AT&T calls its new network 5GE.

“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 suit said.

A January report by The Wall Street Journal had noted complaints by Verizon and T-Mobile about AT&T’s 5G E claims, though it failed to mention any objections by Sprint specifically.

Overland Park-based Sprint and T-Mobile have agreed to a $26 billion merger that is under review by federal regulators. They have built their pitch for a merger in part around plans to build a 5G network that they say other carriers will not be able to match.

5G wireless technology is expected to create a wave of new products and services, including autonomous cars, because of its increased speed and capacity and virtually real-time connections.

Sprint officials have talked about the carrier’s latest and fastest service and have called it Advanced LTE. A Sprint spokeswoman provided a statement about the dispute with AT&T.

“AT&T is deliberately deceiving consumers into believing that their existing 4G LTE network operates on a coveted and highly anticipated 5G network. The reality is that this network isn’t ‘new’ and ‘5G E’ is a false and misleading term. AT&T is just like Sprint and all the other major wireless carriers currently operating a nationwide 4G LTE network. AT&T’s deceptive ads have harmed consumers by persuading them to purchase or continue purchasing AT&T’s services based on the lie that they are offering 5G,” the statement said.

AT&T issued its own statement that acknowledged a distinction between its 5GE service and “standards-based 5G” service.

“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,’ “ AT&T said.

The website Engadget harkened back to 2012 complaints about AT&T and T-Mobile using 4G labels on services that others considered to be faster 3G technologies.

Sprint had gotten ahead of its rivals in the 4G race by launching its WiMax service through Clearwire Corp. in 2008. It acknowledged that still faster LTE technologies were coming but took advantage of WiMax to launch a 4G technology first.

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Mark Davis writes about business for The Kansas City Star with attention to Sprint, investing, the economy and scams. He has been a winner and finalist in national competitions held by the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing.