Sprint Sues AT&T Over Its Fake 5G, Says AT&T's Tricking Consumers

from the false-and-deceptive dept

Big telecom operators 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 already 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.

In a country with functioning regulatory oversight, a competent regulator would at least issue a statement pointing out that misleading consumers in this fashion is false advertising. Instead, AT&T executives, FCC regulatory capture in tow, have quite literally expressed glee at the consternation their 5G head fake is creating among consumers and competitors alike:

"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."

Late last week Sprint decided to respond by filing a lawsuit against AT&T in US District Court for the Southern District of New York, arguing that the "significance of AT&T’s deception cannot be overstated." AT&T's practice likely qualifies as "unfair and deceptive" under the FTC Act, and Sprint argues that the head fake is potentially costing it customers as consumer buy into the fact than AT&T's ahead of the curve on 5G upgrades:

"AT&T has sought to gain an unfair advantage in the race to 5G by embarking on a nationwide advertising campaign to deceive consumers into believing that its existing 4G LTE Advanced network is now a 5G network...But calling its network “5GE” does not make it a 5G network and instead deceives customers into believing it is something that it is not...AT&T's false and misleading statements deceive consumers into believing that AT&T now operates a 5G wireless network and, through this deception, AT&T seeks to induce consumers to purchase or renew AT&T's services when they might otherwise have purchased Sprint's services."

AT&T's likely to argue that its "5G E" or 5G Evolution technology really does offer faster speeds and better range than traditional 4G by incorporating 4x4 MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) antennas and 256 QAM technologies. Still, that's just an "enhanced" version of 4G, something AT&T tries to tap dance around by using the "E."

However AT&T lawyers frame the company's defense, it's very clear AT&T's still being misleading. Companies that think they're building consumer excitement by misrepresenting what 5G is or where it's available may find this kind of marketing is having the exact opposite impact (frustration, skepticism, distrust) their marketing departments originally hoped for.

Filed Under: 5g, 5ge, mobile broadband, truth in advertising
Companies: at&t, sprint


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2019 @ 12:25pm

    I thought the commercials that talked about "3g speed" were misleading because it could be interpreted as "3 gigabyte" speed when it was really just a half-gig.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Killercool (profile), 11 Feb 2019 @ 12:49pm

      Re:

      People are still affected by that impression. Yes, that does mean that the customers in question are somewhat technologically illiterate, but that's kinda beside the point.

      The advertising was designed in such a way as to imply very strongly, without saying it outright, that the "g" was referring to speed, instead of what "g"eneration's standard was being used.

      4g peak download speed: 1000 Megabit/s, or 1 gigabit/s max.

      Surely, it must have been accidental.

      I'm sure you're aware of all this, just putting it out there for the Google-impaired portion of the readers.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Killercool (profile), 11 Feb 2019 @ 12:54pm

        Re: Re:

        And all that's ignoring the fact that most internet is still in the range of 60-70 Mbps. If you believed the standard, 4g is 5 times faster than premium cable internet, let alone what most people have. And they're talking about "5g" like any cellular customer has ever had speeds greater than 20 Mbps.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2019 @ 12:25pm

    I thought the commercials that talked about "3g speed" were misleading because it could be interpreted as "3 gigabyte" speed when it was really just a half-gig.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2019 @ 12:26pm

    If AT&T were run by decent humans they would have just puffed their network up by calling it 4G+. But that wouldn't have resulted in as much litigation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2019 @ 1:48pm

      Re:

      Even "5G-" would be more honest. "5G E" will make people think it's a version or successor of 5G.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Valkor, 11 Feb 2019 @ 2:34pm

        Re: Re:

        No, the successor to 5G will have to be marketed as 5Gs, 5Gse, and 5Gs+ to avoid confusion...

        Even calling this 5G-lite is giving AT&T too much credit. I'm glad there's still a little (very little) competition in wireless.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Feb 2019 @ 2:41pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Wait, there's competition in wireless???? If so, then why aren't prices lower and service better?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Rocky, 11 Feb 2019 @ 2:50pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            Wait, there's competition in wireless???? If so, then why aren't prices lower and service better?

            Uhm, you are a bit mistaken.

            They are not competing in that way, they are competing for the bragging rights who can bullshit the most money out of their customers.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Feb 2019 @ 3:31pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              In their definition of competition they mean any method of communication. To them terrestrial broadband supplies competition, landlines provide competition, VOIP provides competition, and walkie talkies provide competition, HAM radios provide competition, hell even the post office and telegrams provide competition. So if there is only one mobile phone provider, to them, they still have competition.

              And when, not if, that happens, who the hell needs bragging rights? As to how much they will charge? Well they will find out how much they can get away with before the populace determines the cost/benefit between convenience and price. The question then becomes, will they discern the difference before wireless is abandoned to the point that they cannot sustain their network, or after?

              Either way, wireless is a want, not a need. I know many feel that it is a need today (pressure from companies that want 24/7 access to their employees and society in general (ooh shiny)), but the fact is, they got along without it before, and they can (and most likely will) get along without it in the future.

              I get away without it now, but I no longer work and use a tablet and WiFi if I need to on the road. But I no longer need a leash, which is how I refer to cellphones. The same way I referred to that 50 mile radius pager issued to me back in the early 1980's.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Feb 2019 @ 2:14am

      Re:

      Considering 4G isn't 4G to begin with, no.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 11 Feb 2019 @ 1:23pm

    Pot calls kettle black...

    Do you wonder if it's because Sprint couldn't get phone makers to add some lame fake 5G symbol for phones on their network?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2019 @ 1:52pm

    I wish I could set away with this in my field, but those pesky regulators require documentation and testing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2019 @ 1:59pm

    Any sane person would call what AT&T is calling "5G E" "4G Enhanced" or 4G E -- which would be accurate and easily understood. They could even call it 4G Evolution if they wanted, as it is the evolution of 4G technologies.

    It is not, however, enhanced OR evolved 5G service, so the FTC should smack them down hard.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 11 Feb 2019 @ 2:11pm

    why

    Cant we sue them...misrepresentation. I would rather the people sue them...ALL of us..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2019 @ 3:44pm

    MATH PROBLEM

    AT&T's 5G E

    Solve for E:

    Answer: E = -1G

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2019 @ 6:13pm

    None of this would matter if Article 13 was in the US. Soon it will be. Section 230 will die. I'll be on my high horse, laughing!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Feb 2019 @ 7:41pm

      Re:

      I see you are still delusional, Blue.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 12 Feb 2019 @ 5:51am

      Re:

      I am interested in how article 13 will impact the use of so called 5G in the US cell phone market and how this will led to the "death" of section 230.

      In one hand we have a cell phone specification (5G) which defines how cell phones operate and in the other we have section 230 the Communications Decency Act, which is internet related legislation.

      It seems these things are unrelated, please be specific in your answers because you are normally unable to properly define your grievances.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 12 Feb 2019 @ 7:51am

      Re:

      Yeah, we know you're high on horse.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 11 Feb 2019 @ 7:05pm

    Is there a theme here?

    The thesaurus has many useful descriptions for this activity. Frittering away their time. KIlling time. Passing the time. Whiling away their time. Piddling. Shilly-shallying. Tilting at windmills. Going nowhere fast. Running in circles. Wasting their effort.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Toom1275 (profile), 11 Feb 2019 @ 8:12pm

    Though not directly related to NN, allowing ISPs to find new and innovative methods like this for defrauding their customers was what its repeal was all about.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Ehud Gavron (profile), 12 Feb 2019 @ 4:31am

      Re: ISPs

      This has NOTHING to do with ISPs.

      Karl conflates ISPs and telcos all the time.

      Don't fall into the trap.

      This. Has. Nothing. To. Do. With. INTERNET. SERVICE. PROVIDERS.

      E

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Thad (profile), 12 Feb 2019 @ 7:53am

        Re: Re: ISPs

        That's weird. I guess I should stop using my 4G connection for Internet service, then, if those things have nothing to do with each other.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        TFG, 12 Feb 2019 @ 8:02am

        Re: Re: ISPs

        Ehud, bro. AT&T is both an ISP and a telco. I have their internet - with bundled phone. Cellular devices now provide access to the internet, as Thad noted above.

        They are ISPs. They are also telcos. They are both.

        This. Has. Everything. To. Do. With. INTERNET. SERVICE. PROVIDERS.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Bt Garner (profile), 12 Feb 2019 @ 2:18am

    So what will be the end result?

    AT& will capitulate and end up calling it "5G E*" however you will be hard pressed to find the footnote saying that their "5G E" is not really 5G, but more like 9G/2, which is still more than 4G. Sprint will respond with some snarky ads, and collectively, all customers from both companies will end up with a "5G L" surcharge on their bills, to cover all the "5G Legal expenses" that both companies racked up.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Erik, 13 Feb 2019 @ 4:16am

    5GE = 5G Eventually. Obviously.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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