Sprint says in the lawsuit that competition within the wireless industry, specifically between the big four carriers, is fierce, and since most people in the U.S. have mobile phones, carriers these days typically acquire new customers by pulling them away from competitors.
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. I have personally already encountered AT&T customers who believe their Samsung phone now has 5G.
Even though the roll out of 5G smartphones hasn't begun, AT&T has chose to replace the 4G icon on select devices with a 5G E symbol in areas with support for AT&T's fastest LTE technologies.
AT&T renamed a large portion of its 4G network, calling it "5G E", for "5G Evolution". AT&T calls it 5G Evolution, and it is meant to show when a phone is within range of its enhanced 4G network.
In December, Kevin Petersen, an AT&T senior vice president said in a post on the company blog that 5GE services were available in 585 markets, while standards-based 5G services were available in parts of 12 cities.
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There are countless ways for AT&T to share the message that they are delivering an upgraded 4G LTE experience to customers that do not involve telling them their phone now connects in some way to 5G.
"As greater capabilities are validated in interoperability testing (IOT) environments between our technology partners (both network and silicon providers), we are moving quickly to enable in our network allowing for quick real world validation", AT&T said.
Sprint's lawsuit lays out the idea that AT&T is using the same 4G LTE Advanced technology as they are, as Verizon is, and as T-Mobile is, yet is referring to it as 5G Evolution.
"We understand why our competitors don't like what we are doing, but our customers love it. AT&T's deceptive ads have harmed consumers by persuading them to purchase or continue purchasing AT&T's services based on the lie that they are offering 5G". Engadget has the report on Friday, saying that Sprint is now suing AT&T for misleading its customers. The "5GE" icon, which stands for "5G Evolution", and is showing up on some phones in select areas of coverage is not in fact 5G at all. AT&T didn't back down after being roasted by Verizon and T-Mobile, and now it's up to a court to decide the outcome.
Although we have to take Sprint's own carrier-commissioned survey results with a grain of salt, it says that 54 percent of consumers think that 5G E is at least the same or even better than true 5G technology. Customers want and deserve to know when they are getting better speeds.
AT&T's Chief Executive Officer Randall Stephenson said in an interview here with CNBC that the company's customers are seeing an increase in speed and performance on the "5G E" network and this is a step required to get to "ultimate 5G".