AT&T touts 1.5 Gbps achievement, defends use of ‘5G E’ amid Sprint suit

AT&T is touting its ability to achieve 1.5 Gbps in a field test using its commercial 5G network at the same time it’s defending its use of the “5G E” moniker on phones, something Sprint is suing the operator over.

“As the first carrier in the U.S. to begin introducing standards based mobile 5G on our 5G+ (5G over millimeter wave spectrum) network, we’re continuing to evolve quickly and accelerate the technology ecosystem,” wrote Gordon Mansfield, AT&T’s VP of converged access and device design, in a blog post. “It also means we’re the only company in the U.S. that can test the latest updates in real time on a standards based 5G commercial mobile network.”

AT&T successfully tested a new software update on its live commercial 5G+ network, which resulted in speeds over 1.5 Gbps, he said, noting that speed doesn’t reflect current user-experienced 5G+ speeds, which are lower and will vary.

The test was conducted in the field using a mobile form factor test device, and AT&T told FierceWireless that it plans to roll out this network upgrade across its network as quickly as possible, enabling its early adopters to be some of the first in the U.S. to start benefiting from the performance enhancements these upgrades will enable “in the near future.” The company didn't say exactly when it plans to roll this out. 

AT&T also clarified that it’s an upgrade to “5G+, our mmWave 5G network, not 5G E,” so people using the Netgear hotspot will benefit, and future 5G+ devices will benefit as well.

“As greater capabilities are validated in interoperability testing (IOT) environments between our technology partners (both network and silicon providers), we are moving quickly to enable in our network allowing for quick real world validation,” AT&T said. “IOT testing using 400 MHz of spectrum has recently occurred which allowed us to upgrade the network and use a test device with the latest software to achieve these faster speeds. This software upgrade is based on 3GPP release 15 (September) specs.”

RELATED: AT&T’s Donovan says competitors ‘frustrated’ by AT&T’s 5G prowess

AT&T’s peers have criticized its use of the “5G E” designation it started displaying on smartphones last month as misleading and “fake 5G,” but Sprint’s lawsuit filed Thursday takes it up another notch.

“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,” Sprint said in the suit, published by Engadget. “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.”

Sprint argues that by making the false claim that it is offering a 5G wireless network where it offers only a 4G LTE Advanced network, AT&T is attempting to secure an unfair advantage in the saturated wireless market. “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,” the suit alleges.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson told CNBC that the company feels “very comfortable” about how it characterizes the service. “When we go into a market, and we turn up this technology and we light up this spectrum, our customers are seeing radical increases in speed and performance on the network and this is a step that’s required to get to ultimate 5G,” he said. “We’ve obviously done our homework” on how it’s characterized and “we’re being very clear with our customers that this is an evolutionary step.”

Here’s AT&T’s written statement in response to Sprint’s suit:

“We understand why our competitors don’t like what we are doing, but our customers love it. 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. That’s what 5G Evolution is, and we are delighted to deliver it to our customers.

“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. Sprint will have to reconcile its arguments to the FCC that it cannot deploy a widespread 5G network without T-Mobile while simultaneously claiming in this suit to be launching ‘legitimate 5G technology imminently.’”

AT&T Communications CEO John Donovan told an audience at CES last month that AT&T has “frustrated” its competitors by being the first to launch a commercial standards-based mobile 5G service late last year. But its rivals aren’t backing away, and Sprint’s proposed merger partner T-Mobile blasted the operator again during its earnings conference call Thursday. CTO Neville Ray said AT&T is “desperate right now” because T-Mobile has a better network and it launched those same LTE Advanced features long ago.