Sprint files lawsuit against AT&T over 5G claims

Sprint has called for an end to AT&T’s 5G E advertising campaign, arguing in a lawsuit that it is false and misleading, and causing irreparable damage to its own 5G network investment.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Sprint has filed a lawsuit against AT&T over its 5G E advertising, calling it false and misleading by deceiving customers to believe that its 4G LTE Advanced network is actually 5G.

The complaint claims that AT&T is making itself seem more technologically advanced than its competitors, which is causing "irreparable harm" to Sprint.

"AT&T has employed numerous deceptive tactics to mislead consumers into believing that it currently offers a coveted and highly anticipated fifth generation wireless network, known as 5G," the complaint, filed in the United States District Court Southern District of New York, said.

"What AT&T touts as 5G, however, is nothing more than an enhanced fourth-generation Long-Term Evolution wireless service, known as 4G LTE Advanced, which is offered by all other major wireless carriers."

As well as a nationwide advertising campaign for its 5G E network, Sprint said AT&T is pushing out a software update to its customers to make them 5G E-capable. According to Sprint, the main change from the update is it places a 5G E logo at the top of smartphone and tablet screens.

"The only reason for the software change, therefore, is to deceive consumers into believing that they are now operating on a 5G network, and convince them to remain with AT&T, or convince others to purchase AT&T's services," Sprint argued.

"AT&T's 5GE network is not, in fact, a 5G wireless network, nor does AT&T sell a single 5G-enabled mobile phone or tablet."

Sprint said it is poised to launch the first actual 5G network in the US, and that AT&T's advertising is harming customers by encouraging them to switch carriers.

 "AT&T's claims of offering 5GE (or '5G E' or '5G Evolution') wireless service are literally false and/or misleading," the lawsuit said.

Sprint also ran surveys finding that 54 percent of consumers think 5G E is true 5G, and 43 percent believe that buying a phone through AT&T means it would run on 5G immediately.

This false advertising will dampen consumer enthusiasm for 5G, Sprint argued, because they won't see any difference between LTE and 5G E. It also added that this will diminish the value of its 5G rollout and result in increased revenue for AT&T while causing Sprint "significant lost sales".

"AT&T's deception guts Sprint's opportunity to reap the full commercial benefits of Sprint's 5G network launch that it has been developing for years at enormous expense," the complaint said.

Sprint is seeking a permanent injunction against AT&T preventing them from using the term 5G E, as well as damages for "disgorgement of profits and costs for corrective advertisement".

T-Mobile -- which plans to merge with Sprint this year -- in January mocked AT&T's 5G E branding, while Verizon CTO Kyle Malady criticised the move.

"The potential for 5G is awesome, but the potential to over-hype and under-deliver on the 5G promise is a temptation that the wireless industry must resist," Malady said at the time.

"If network providers, equipment manufacturers, handset makers, app developers, and others in the wireless ecosystem engage in behavior designed to purposefully confuse consumers, public officials and the investment community about what 5G really is, we risk alienating the very people we want most to join in developing and harnessing this exciting new technology."

AT&T announced its 5G network going live in mid-December in parts of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Waco, Atlanta, Charlotte, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Louisville, Oklahoma City, New Orleans, and Raleigh. In the first half of 2019, it will also be switched on across Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose, Las Vegas, Orlando, and Nashville.

However, smartphones are not yet 5G-capable. Instead, AT&T is providing a Netgear Nighthawk 5G Mobile Hotspot that uses the carrier's advanced LTE and millimetre-wave (mmWave)-based 5G mobile network. Existing smartphones will be able to connect to the Netgear hotspot.

"Currently, there are no 5G-enabled mobile phones or tablets available for sale or lease to consumers," the Sprint lawsuit pointed out.

"No service provider has finished upgrading all of its cell towers with the requisite 5G radios to allow broad, contiguous 5G network access as consumers travel from tower to tower in individual markets -- let alone across the country. Nor has any service provider released the software necessary for future 5G devices and 5G cell towers to talk to each other."

Sprint this month said it had doubled its quarterly network investment to $1.4 billion to prepare for 5G, which will launch across the initial 5G markets of downtown Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New York City, Phoenix, and Washington DC in the coming months.

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