AT&T’s widely mocked move to label 4G as 5G is now subject to a legal challenge from rival US operator Sprint.
In January, AT&T started rolling out a software update to 17 Android phones so they would display a ‘5GE’ (5G Evolution) icon at the top of the screen. However, these devices are simply using an upgraded version of 4G.
AT&T was the second US operator to launch a commercial 5G service, however its network is limited to mobile hotspot services in parts of 12 cities in what seemed to be a last-ditch attempt to honour its pledge to go live in 2018.
At present, there is not a single commercially available smartphone capable of using a 5G service.
AT&T justified the action by claiming upgrades to 4G are laying the foundation for 5G and that when standards-based 5G is available, the devices will display a ‘5G+’ icon.
However, the move has been widely mocked by AT&T’s rivals who have no plans to follow suit, while critics will argue consumers will be confused and misled. Indeed, they may consider ‘5GE’ to be more advanced than LTE and ‘5G+’ to be superior to standards-based 5G. What’s more, many of these upgrades to 4G have already been rolled out by multiple operators, with some calling these ‘LTE-E’.
Sprint is going one step further by filing a lawsuit in the United State District Court for the Southern District of New York. It alleges that the tactics are “deceptive”, and that AT&T is attempting to gain an unfair advantage by claiming it already has 5G connectivity.
AT&T has hit back at the claims, suggesting in a statement that there is consumer benefit:
“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.”