Sprint sues AT&T over '5G' claims

Sprint is accusing AT&T of misleading customers by marketing its 4G LTE service as 5G, the next generation of wireless technology that is considered years away from being fully realized.

Sprint filed a lawsuit in federal court on Thursday night, arguing that AT&T’s new marketing of its “5GE” offerings are false and offer an “unfair advantage” to the company.

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“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 lawsuit reads. “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.”

“The significance of AT&T’s deception cannot be overstated,” Sprint added in its filing.

AT&T spokesman Michael Balmoris said in a statement that the company plans to fight the lawsuit.

“We understand why our competitors don’t like what we are doing, but our customers love it," Balmoris said. "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."

In recent months, AT&T customers began seeing “5GE” replacing the 4G label on their phones. Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile criticized the new campaign with full-page newspaper ads and a social media effort mocking the claims.

“Our industry knows 5G will change the world,” Verizon chief technology officer Kyle Malady wrote in an open letter. “Let’s uphold that promise, while maintaining our integrity. The success of the 5G technological revolution must be measured in truth and fact, not marketing hype.”

Sprint on Friday asked the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York to issue an immediate preliminary injunction against AT&T from making the claims.

At a consumer electronics show last month, AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan said the new indicator helped show off the upgrades the company made to its wireless network and that in some cases customers' download speeds had doubled. He also took a shot at the rest of the industry for complaining about the 5GE claims.

"If I now occupy beachfront real estate in our competitors’ heads, that makes me smile," Donovan said.

“Sprint estimates that AT&T’s improper conduct has already caused Sprint significant lost sales and, if not enjoined, will continue to do so,” the lawsuit says.