Sprint, the fourth largest telecom operator, has sued AT&T, saying AT&T was misleading wireless consumers into believing that they were using 5G wireless network, a technology that has not yet been widely deployed.
AT&T customers were seeing 5G E logo on their mobile devices in over 400 markets. Even though users are still on 4G network, AT&T is calling it 5G Evolution, Sprint said in the lawsuit.
AT&T website said 5G Evolution is AT&T’s first step on the road to 5G. These improvements are enabling faster speeds on its existing LTE network. Industry sources say AT&T has renamed their existing LTE network as 5G Evolution.
5G can offer data speeds up to 50 or 100 times faster than 4G networks. AT&T’s 5G Evolution, which is live in 400 markets, enables peak wireless speeds of at least 400 megabits per second.
AT&T’s standards-based mobile 5G network is live in parts of 12 cities. AT&T plans to deploy mobile 5G in 7 more cities in the first half of 2019. Industry sources say AT&T has called limited mmW deployment as 5G+.
T-Mobile, which is buying Sprint, earlier said Verizon and America are not first with 5G. Verizon created their own made-up proprietary standard. Verizon uses millimeter wave (mmW) spectrum.
Smartphones running on both Android and Apple’s iOS platforms are sporting 5G E for AT&T customers, even though those phones are not equipped to support 5G, Reuters reported.
Sprint said that a survey showed 54 percent of AT&T’s smartphone consumers believed their 5G E network is the same as or better than a 5G network and 43 percent said if they buy an AT&T phone today, it would be capable of running on 5G.
“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,” AT&T said in response to the lawsuit.
5G Evolution and the 5GE indicator let customers know when their device is in an area where speeds up to twice as fast as standard LTE are available, AT&T said.
AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told CNBC in an interview that the company’s smartphone 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.
Sprint plans to begin its mobile 5G roll out in nine markets in the first half of 2019. Sprint will bring 5G smartphones from LG and Samsung and an innovative 5G mobile smart hub from HTC.
Rival Verizon Communications in December disclosed plans to bring 5G smartphone from Samsung in the first half of 2019.
T-Mobile is trying to buy Sprint and is awaiting for the US approval for the $26 billion deal to become a strong player to compete with AT&T and Verizon.