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."

Filed Under: 4g, 5g, fcc, truth in advertising
Companies: at&t, sprint


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 6:36am

    False advertising is fraud, or at least I used to think so. I wonder if these execs believe their own ads.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 6:41am

    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)

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 7:48am

      Re: fraud vs courts

      Did you not read anything? Nothing has changed. AT&T will continue doing its 5GE lie. To me, that is a loss. Almost like AT&T had dirt on Sprint and so Sprint dropped the case.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 9:14am

        Re: Re: fraud vs courts

        I find it surprising that we're letting Sprint decide how much false advertising is okay for AT&T. In most other countries, that would be up to government agencies.

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

        • icon
          Thad (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 10:28am

          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.

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

          • icon
            nasch (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 11:16am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: fraud vs courts

            I think his point is that in a properly functioning government, a regulatory agency would have smacked AT&T down for false advertising.

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

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 2:46pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: fraud vs courts

              yup, the "allegation" of AT&T 5G fraud is apparently much weaker than the accusers assume.

              There are plenty of hungry lawyers who would love to win a big bucks lawsuit against a big wealthy corporation like AT&T --- why isn't that happening if AT&T is so obviously guilty?

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

  • icon
    PaulT (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 6:43am

    "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.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    DinnahBarcelona (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 7:53am

    This is false advertising just to caught the attention of consumer by the way kindly check my website, thanks https://dinnahbarcelona.wixsite.com/fvadinnahbarcelona

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 8:02am

    Frankly....

    ...I'm far more annoyed with ALL of them "re-imagining" what the word UNLIMITED means.

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

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 9:11am

      Re: Frankly....

      At least unlimited HAS a definition

      There are inherent RF limits to data transfer, so nobody can provide truly unlimited service. What, then, is your definition? There has been some disagreement on whether throttling would make a service "limited".

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

      • icon
        Bamboo Harvester (profile), 25 Apr 2019 @ 9:31am

        Re: Re: Frankly....

        Please point me to a dictionary or legal treatise that defines "unlimited" as "5gb per month or less".

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 9:52am

          Re: Re: Re: Frankly....

          "unlimited data" definitely has a definition; "unlimited bandwidth" is impossible.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 10:48am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: Frankly....

            The word "bandwidth" has been abused for several decades now, not sure what it means anymore. It used to describe the frequency bounds of a device.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 9:58am

        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.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 10:09am

          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.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 10:55am

          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.

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

    • icon
      Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 26 Apr 2019 @ 7:07am

      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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 11:30am

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

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 12:44pm

      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.

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

      • icon
        Tanner Andrews (profile), 2 May 2019 @ 12:02am

        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.

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

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 2 May 2019 @ 12:50am

          Re: Re: Re: [off topic]

          You know what people call "alternative medicine" that actually works? Medicine. Aspirin has some side effects, but it's effective at what it's meant to do, whereas someone going to a homeopath would only be helped by a placebo effect.

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

        • icon
          nasch (profile), 2 May 2019 @ 7:23am

          Re: Re: Re: [off topic]

          If chemotherapy is worse than cancer, why is it still used?

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

  • identicon
    Valkor, 25 Apr 2019 @ 12:19pm

    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.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 25 Apr 2019 @ 5:24pm

    AT&T committing deceptive practices in the marketplace? Say it isn;t so... Americans have become brilliant at complaining about getting f'ed from their ISPs.

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


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