Sprint settles out of court with AT&T over 5G E

Sprint and AT&T have settled a lawsuit about AT&T’s controversial “5G E” brand, and it looks like AT&T has emerged the victor. The two companies confirmed to the Dallas Business Journal they "amicably settled" the matter, but AT&T will continue to use the 5G E icon on non-5G networks and devices.


AT&T found itself at the center of controversy when it launched its 5G Evolution (5G E) marketing brand in 2017. The company pushed a software update to subscribers’ devices that changed the icon displayed on the phone from 4G LTE to 5G E, despite the fact that those networks were not 5G networks, and that those devices were not even capable of supporting 5G.


AT&T defended its marketing brand, arguing that the 4G LTE Advanced technologies like carrier aggregation, 4x4 MIMO and 256 QAM, represented steps toward a 5G network, and that the 5G E designation signals such to subscribers.


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The move has been widely considered as a slight against consumers among industry observers and AT&T rivals, as the technologies AT&T has labeled “5G E” are the same technologies that all the other major wireless carriers have already employed within their own networks.


In February, Sprint took that criticism up a notch when it formally filed a federal lawsuit against AT&T, seeking an injunction against the 5G E marketing brand. In its filing, Sprint pointed to a survey that found 54% of respondents thought 5G E was the same or better than 5G, and 43% thought that they could purchase a 5G-capable phone from AT&T at the time, before the first 5G phones had been released.


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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,” Sprint said in the suit. “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 spat is reminiscent of an earlier scandal, when AT&T and T-Mobile began calling their HSPA+ networks “4G” in 2012. At the time, the ITU decided that the term “4G” could be applied to the forerunners of these technologies, LTE and WiMAX, and to other evolved 3G technologies that provided “a substantial level of improvement in performance and capabilities with respect to the initial third generation systems now deployed.”


It’s possible the same logic was applied between Sprint and AT&T to settle this case.