AT&T Settles Lawsuit Over 'Fake 5G,' Won't Change A Thing

from the ill-communication dept

Big wireless carriers haven’t been exactly honest when it comes to the looming fifth-generation wireless standard (5G). Eager to use the improvements to charge higher rates and sell new gear, carriers and network vendors are dramatically over-hyping where the service is actually available, and what it can actually do. Some, like AT&T, have gone so far as to actively mislead customers by pretending that its existing 4G networks are actually 5G. AT&T took this to the next level recently by issuing phone updates that change the 4G icon to “5GE” on customer phones, despite the fact that actual 5G isn’t really available.

This isn’t just confusing consumers. Even Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff was misled this week by AT&T’s gambit:

When AT&T has been called out for the misleading practice, it has only doubled down, with executives like AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan going so far as to say they were pleased by the consternation the head fake was causing:

“Every company is guilty of building a narrative of how you want the world to work, and I love the fact that we broke our industry’s narrative two days ago, and so they’re frustrated and they’re going to do what they do,” Donovan said.

“I think the result of last month, beating the industry out [with the 5G hotspot], and this 5G E launch a couple of days ago, our competitors are frustrated,” Donovan said. “if I have now occupied beachfront real estate in my competitors’ heads, that makes me smile.”

So far, consumers aren’t really smiling. Not only is AT&T’s 4G network being dressed up as 5G, its actual 5G is nothing to write home about. Critics have rightly noted that AT&T’s actual 5G footprint is negligible at best, device support is largely nonexistent, and the costs are nothing to cheer about. By and large these early deployments are little more than highly-limited marketing demos, and even then they’re not doing a very good job selling 5G as a meaningful connectivity revolution. At least not one worth the additional costs consumers are expected to pay.

Unsurprisingly, the FCC hasn’t much cared that AT&T’s misleading its customers by pretending 4G is 5G. Sprint, however, sued AT&T back in February, stating that by falsely claiming it was offering 5G, the company was using false advertising to leech away the company’s customers.

This week, that lawsuit was quietly settled without the companies involved providing any details whatsoever:

“AT&T and Sprint have settled a lawsuit over AT&T?s ?5G Evolution? branding, which Sprint claimed was fooling customers into believing its 4G LTE network was a full-fledged 5G network. ?We have amicably settled this matter,? an AT&T spokesperson told the Dallas Business Journal ? which cited anonymous sources saying that AT&T would keep using ?5G E? in its marketing material. AT&T and Sprint also confirmed its statement to The Verge.”

In other words AT&T either paid Sprint to shut them up, or Sprint just backed down for some unforeseen reason. Either way, insiders state that nothing will actually change at AT&T, and the company intends to continue pretending that its modestly-upgraded 4G network is actually 5G. Combined with a lot of the other availability misrepresentation these carriers are engaged in, they’re inadvertently teaching customers to associate 5G with empty promises and hype. Not a particularly solid ethical or marketing start for a technology these carriers proclaim will revolutionize the planet as part of the “fourth industrial revolution.”

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Companies: at&t, sprint

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Comments on “AT&T Settles Lawsuit Over 'Fake 5G,' Won't Change A Thing”

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26 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

fraud vs courts

so SPRINT successfully sued AT&T for 5G misrepresentations.

Sounds like there is at least some competitive pressure on AT&T.

And any consumer can likewise sue AT&T if it engages in fraud.

Most businesses and all politicians exaggerate and hype their upcoming products/services.
The courts deal with outright fraud.
(politicians are of course exempt from any legal accountability)

Thad (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: fraud vs courts

I’m not much of an expert in how legal systems outside the US operate, but I’m pretty sure civil courts exist in other countries.

Sprint "gets to decide" because Sprint filed the lawsuit. That is how civil suits work. If a plaintiff agrees to drop a suit, then the suit does not get decided by a court.

Anybody else with standing — another wireless carrier, a customer, a state AG, the Department of Justice — can still file a lawsuit against AT&T. Any of those hypothetical plaintiffs is entitled to the same option that Sprint took of agreeing to settlement terms and dropping the lawsuit before it goes to court.

PaulT (profile) says:

"I saw real 5G last week South Korea and it was astonishing."

"fooling customers into believing its 4G LTE network was a full-fledged 5G network"

That seems to be the way of things. Some countries have competitive marketplaces that drive investment and innovation in new technologies. American corporations would rather stick some shiny rebranding on something they already have and make money without having to actually do anything.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Frankly....

Unlimited data means you can consume as much data as you can and will not be charged extra. Obviously your bandwidth will put a practical cap on how much data you can consume. In effect, throttled connections can still advertise "unlimited data" truthfully.

It’s shitty and somewhat misleading as many people will interpret that as "ALL THE DATA!" but then people are dumb and accept advertising at face value, too.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Frankly....

Unlimited data means you can consume as much data as you can and will not be charged extra.

It must mean more than that. If I pay $50 for a month of "unlimited" access, and my connection goes dark on the first day after downloading 5 GB, that wouldn’t be unlimited. That’s equivalent to throttling to zero speed. Speeds above but very near zero wouldn’t look realistically different, which would leave us arguing about how much throttling would cause it to be false advertising. That leads me to conclude: any amount.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Frankly....

"Unlimited data means you can consume as much data as you can and will not be charged extra."

  • Funny that … it seems there are providers out there that disagree. They offer their unlimited plan and it has caps – go figure.

"but then people are dumb and accept advertising at face value, too."

  • Yeah – lets gaslight our customers … it will be great!!!!

"throttled connections can still advertise "unlimited data" truthfully."

  • Wrong. Advertisers are not given the latitude to redefine words at their pleasure as the rest of society has an input and you can guess what that is in response to this silliness.

And yes, it is rather shitty.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Frankly....

"At least unlimited HAS a definition, 5G is still a pie in the sky dream idea."

Well, not entirely. Any urban area where you can plaster a dedicated signal repeater every 30 feet (10 m) or so will be able to support 5G speeds.

it’s a bit like the existing 4G networks. your phone may show the "4g" symbols but unless you’re actually leaning your back against the signal mast you will barely be on 3g speeds.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

This is great. Opens the door to innovative business models. Going to pitch Walgreens start selling vitamin shots marketed as ‘Vaccines’.

The "alternative medicine" people beat you to that. Seriously, they’re selling stuff as, for example, homeopathic flu remedies with the fine print saying they’re not remedies. And people sometimes die, from the diseases that aren’t treated but also directly from the substances.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: Re: [off topic]

[ "alternative medicine" is unreliable ]

Sure, but alternative medicine has no monopoly on this. Modern patent medicines have drawbacks too, and some, like chemo, are often worse than the disease.

Consider: Aspirin for the heart is bad for the stomach. Stomach protectors are bad for the bones. Bone protectors are bad for the heart.

Valkor says:

Native advertising

Great, now AT&T is using up space on the phone screen for advertising.

That indicator used to have a function. It gave useful information on the state of the network where you were. I still spend enough time in sparsely populated areas that I see 3G pop up there frequently. Now it says something completely meaningless. I hope and pray that people will start associating 5G with their normal crappy cell speeds. That should inoculate people against the marketing.

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