The suit, which Sprint filed late on February 7, accused AT&T of deceitful marketing and making consumers believe that it currently offers a 5G wireless network. In reality, however, AT&T’s customers are using an upgraded version of 4G LTE. While AT&T has recently replaced the “LTE” symbol at the top of some smartphones, with “5G E” (5G Evolution), the carrier has not switched to any type of 5G network. AT&T has said the new label symbolizes that it’s on its way to deploying a mainstream 5G network, but the other major carriers, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint have been outspoken against this tactic.
“AT&T is deliberately deceiving consumers into believing that their existing 4G LTE network operates on a coveted and highly anticipated 5G network,” a Sprint spokeswoman told Connected Real Estate Magazine. “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.”
Sprint stated, “the significance of AT&T’s deception cannot be overstated” in its complaint. The carrier also said AT&T’s 5G promotions have caused Sprint to lose sales and that it believes the alleged false advertising could confuse the public. All four major carriers are currently racing to be the first to offer a true 5G wireless network in the U.S., and Sprint said AT&T is trying to gain an “unfair advantage” by using allegedly misleading marketing.
AT&T, however, does not believe it has done anything wrong. Randall Stephenson, the carrier’s chief executive, told CNBC on February 8 that the company felt “very comfortable” with the “5G E” label.
“We’ve done our [homework] around how we characterize this,” he told the network.
According to The Washington Post, Sprint reached out to AT&T before it filed the lawsuit and asked the company to suspend its marketing. AT&T declined to do so, Craig Whitney, one of Sprint’s lawyers for the case said. So now, Sprint has asked the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to block AT&T from using “5G E” on anything similar to it.
How the U.S. District Court will respond remains to be seen, but in the meantime, AT&T plans to continue using the “5G E” label and fight the lawsuit.
“We understand why our competitors don’t like what we are doing, but our customers love it,” AT&T spokesman Michael Balmoris said in a statement. “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.”
Meanwhile, John Donovan, AT&T Communications’ chief executive also defended the company’s practices at last month’s Consumer Electronics Show last month, according to The Washington Post.
“If I now occupy beachfront real estate in our competitors’ heads, that makes me smile,” Donovan said. “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.”