If you're an AT&T customer with a high-end handset, you may have noticed the "5GE" radio indicator pop up at the top of your screen after a recent Android update.
The lawsuit came after Apple's popular iPhone on AT&T's network started showing the "5GE" label this week, even though Apple doesn't make a 5G compatible phone and isn't even expected to be offering one until 2020. I have personally already encountered AT&T customers who believe their Samsung phone now has 5G.
5G Evolution is AT&T's bullshit branding for existing 4G LTE Advanced, which as Sprint notes in its lawsuit is "offered by all other major wireless carriers". AT&T started this whole mess then it made a decision to relabel its LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) network as 5G Evolution (5G E). "It also means we're the only company in the USA that can test the latest updates in real time on a standards based 5G commercial mobile network".
It appears that for now, AT&T is doubling down on the concept that consumers aren't confused by "5G E" and don't believe it's the same as 5G-NR, the technology that most of the industry calls "5G".
The lawsuit, which was uploaded to Scribd by Engadget, alleges that AT&T is partaking in false and misleading advertising to gain an unfair advantage over its competitors. "AT&T's false and misleading statements deceive consumers into believing that AT&T now operates a 5G wireless network and, through this deception, AT&T seeks to induce consumers to purchase or renew AT&T's services when they might otherwise have purchased Sprint's services". Their argument is that 5G Evolution and the 5GE logo "simply let customers know their device is in an area where speeds up to twice as fast as standard LTE are available".
The company plans to fight the lawsuit, and will continue to deploy 5G Evolution even as it builds out its real, standards-based mobile 5G network. T-Mobile CEO John Legere was less restrained. "Customers want and deserve to know when they are getting better speeds", AT&T said in response to the lawsuit.
Both Verizon and T-Mobile have also called out AT&T for its marketing practices. 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". "That's what 5G Evolution is, and we are delighted to deliver it to our customers", said AT&T.
"AT&T's "5G E" network is not, in fact, a 5G wireless network, nor does AT&T sell a single 5G-enabled mobile phone or tablet", Sprintwrote.
Sprint also argues that AT&T's deception is working on some level, citing a survey it commissioned that shows 54% of polled consumers believing that "AT&T's "5GE" network is the same as or better than a 5G network", while 43% of consumers believe that AT&T is now selling phones that are capable of connecting to 5G networks.
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