Sprint Sues AT&T Over 5G Branding

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Sprint is suing AT&T for what it calls deceptively branding its 4G network as 5G technology.

Mobile phones and tablets could download full length HD movies in less than 5 seconds, 100 times faster than 4G (six minutes) and 25,000 times faster than 3G (26 hours).

AT&T is accused of numerous acts of deliberate deception around its attempt to promote its LTE Advanced service as "5G Evolution". While 43-percent of them believe that if they walk into an AT&T store and buy a phone, it'll be 5G capable.

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What started out on some Android phones has now rolled over to some iPhones, and, as a result, Sprint is ready to throw down the gauntlet in front of AT&T. Sprint and T-Mobile, in comparison, don't expect their mobile 5G networks to get off the ground until the second half of the year.

The 5G tech race will take years, but the marketing contest is happening right now, and as BTIG analyst Walt Piecyk points out, consumers care more about speed and performance than they do about the industry's definition of 5G. "It's total confusion for the customers". The suit called for an immediate cessation of the branding by AT&T and seeks damages for undermining Sprint's efforts to bring true 5G service to the market. T-Mobile and Verizon have both pushed back against this in their own way. There is the outright lie involved in suggesting something is 5G when it isn't and then there's the damage done to Sprint competitively and the outright damage done to the United States telecoms market by deceiving it into thinking 5G is already here.

AT&T and Verizon have a small, early lead thanks to several limited deployments. But AT&T could well argue that "5G" doesn't actually mean anything, or that it means what carriers say it means.

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Filed in the U.S. District Court Southern District in NY on Thursday, the complaint is a good primer on some aspects of wireless marketing, noting the "extremely saturated" wireless market is mainly served by Sprint, AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile, and implying that a tall story can go a long way: "In light of the highly saturated market, any perceived advancement in technology or in the capabilities of a service provider's wireless network can give that service provider a significant competitive advantage over other wireless companies that can last for years".

AT&T's website says 5GE, which stands for 5G Evolution, "is our first step on the road to 5G". The operator said it will fight the lawsuit while continuing to deploy 5G Evolution in addition to standards-based mobile 5G. T-Mobile CEO John Legere was less restrained.

Sprint said in the lawsuit that the AT&T advertising "deceives consumers" into thinking they already have access to 5G connectivity, when they are really only connected to a faster 4G network. 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.

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While 4G LTE Advanced is certainly more capable than standard LTE, it isn't 5G in any real sense.

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