AT&T recently started branding phones and networks that use 4G LTE Advanced technology as “5G Evolution,” a rather misleading name for a phone that does not use 5G network capabilities. Some carriers responded to the efforts mildly, with T-Mobile creating a mocking sticker and Verizon penning a strongly worded letter.
Sprint, however, isn’t taking the deceptive branding as lightly, filing a lawsuit against AT&T in federal court. They claim to be developing technologies for “legitimate early entry into the 5G network space” and allege AT&T’s 5G Evolution is damaging to the reputation of actual 5G network capabilities.
Sprint cites a self-commissioned survey that found 54 percent of consumers believed the “5GE” networks were the same as or better than 5G, and that 43 percent think if they buy an AT&T phone today it will be 5G capable. Both of these group are mistaken.
AT&T provided Engadget with this statement regarding the lawsuit:
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.”
This is not the first time networks have misled the public about the network capabilities of their phones. AT&T and T-Mobile used to use “4G” branding on HSPA+ networks before LTE became widely available. iOS used a false 4G logo on its 3G phones back in 2012 and did essentially the exact same thing this month by sporting a “5G” tag on iOS 12.2 beta.
The International Telecommunication Union (ITU), who is responsible for setting the standards that would be relevant in this suit, has previously yielded that 4G could also apply to “evolved” 3G technologies. We’ll just have to see if federal courts agree.