Rival wireless carrier Sprint is suing the company over its claims, calling 5GE a "false and misleading" label created to deceive customers into thinking AT&T's service is faster and better than others. There's just one problem: AT&T doesn't offer phones that support 5G yet, and what it brands as "5G E" is actually just 4G LTE Advanced.
Sprint will seek a temporary restraining order against AT&T to cease the 5GE commercials and labeling as soon as possible, a lawyer for the company said.
What's more, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson appeared on CNBC today and said that the company is "comfortable" with what it's doing and that they are "being very clear with our customers that this is an evolutionary step".
The tension grew over the past several weeks as some iPhones and Androids began displaying AT&T's 5G E symbol near the network coverage bars at the top of phone screens.
Despite trying to convince consumers that 5G E is different from 4G, OpenSignal measurements in late 2018 found that AT&T's average download speeds nationwide were slower than Verizon's and T-Mobile's 4G networks.
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The complaint notes that "AT&T has yet to deliver a contiguous mobile 5G network or release a 5G-enabled mobile phone or tablet capable of connecting directly to a 5G network.' And yet is went ahead with this 5Ge marketing campaign regardless, which Sprint says is 'false and misleading". AT&T calls it 5G Evolution, and it is meant to show when a phone is within range of its enhanced 4G network. But AT&T hasn't yet flipped the switch on its standards-based 5G network, and there are no 5G-capable phones on the market. However, for many users who do not understand technology, they will mistakenly believe that AT&T has provided the 5G network.
In the lawsuit, which tech news website Engadget obtained and posted online, Sprint asked for a jury trial and said AT&T is breaking federal and state laws on false advertising and deception. T-Mobile took to Twitter with a hilarious mockery of the branding, slapping a "9G" sticker onto an iPhone. "We've brought the "5G E" indicator to some of our most popular and capable smartphones simply to help customers know when they are in an area where the enhanced wireless experience may be available", the statement said. AT&T offers standards-based 5G in parts of 12 cities, but its first 5G device for sale is a mobile hotspot rather than a phone. "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.
"I don't think AT&T's use of "5G E" is Sprint's biggest problem", Piecyk said. We introduced 5G Evolution more than two years ago, clearly defining it as an evolutionary step to standards-based 5G. Sprint dubbed its short-lived WiMax network 4G, while T-Mobile and AT&T blurred the lines by calling advanced 3G a flavor of 4G.
According to Sprint, a survey showed that 54% of consumers believe that the "5G E" network is the same or even better than a real 5G network.
AT&T and Verizon have a small, early lead thanks to several limited deployments.