Sprint sues AT&T over its fake 5G branding

The lawsuit claims "5G Evolution" branding damages Sprint's legitimate 5G.

After AT&T decided to start rolling out "5G Evolution" branding on phones and networks that use 4G LTE Advanced technology, competitors have had to make decisions on how to respond. While T-Mobile mocked it with a sticker, Verizon (Engadget's parent company) fired off a letter. So what is Sprint going to do? It has filed a lawsuit in federal court, seeking an injunction to prevent AT&T from using 5GE tags on its devices or advertising.

In its claim, Sprint said it commissioned a 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, even though neither of those things are true. Sprint's argument is that what AT&T is doing is damaging the reputation of 5G, while it works to build out what it calls a " legitimate early entry into the 5G network space."

Following the announcement of Sprint's lawsuit, AT&T provided us with the following statement:

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."

If all of this sounds familiar, that's because it harkens back to the initial days of 4G, when networks like AT&T and T-Mobile slapped "4G" branding on HSPA+ networks before LTE became widely available. Back in 2012, iOS 5.1 suddenly upgraded 3G-only iPhones with an illegitimate "4G" logo, and just this week the iOS 12.2 beta repeated history with a "5G" tag. At the time the standards-setting ITU capitulated, saying that 4G could also apply to "evolved" 3G technologies. We'll see if that argument sticks in court this time around.

Update, 2/8/19, 10:20AM ET: This story has been updated with AT&T's statement on Sprint's lawsuit.