So far, always… However, Sprint seems to be taking it personally. I, kind of, do not blame them, and am not at all surprised to hear that they had filed a lawsuit.
This kind of behavior, on both sides, is a bit of a sad statement on the state of our industry. AT&T’s move sounds like a desperate attempt to gain publicity and sham its users into believing that they are on 5G when it is really advanced 4G technology. Sprint’s reaction can also be construed as a desperate reaction in light of their competitive position and the impending merger with T-Mobile.
In past columns, I have discussed the merits of advanced LTE as being sufficient for many users, today. Is there fear among the carriers that the latest version of 4G is doing the job? I have discussed that, as well.
Perhaps AT&T was worried about this a while back and their think tank came up with 5G E and 5G+ as ways to con their user base (and the public?) into thinking this is what 5G will do. Then, when 5G really is here it will be easier to sell it to them?
With the history of deception that the carriers have, AT&T’s shenanigans should not be a surprise to anyone. As the lawsuit points out, this is deception – I agree. If it is an “evolutionary step” as the AT&T response to Sprint says, then I must have missed the fine print. If I look at this with tech-savvy-less eyes, everything I have read and heard leads me to believe this is real 5G, not 5G-like performance, i.e. 4G on steroids.
There are some salient points made by Sprint and, regardless of what AT&T puts in the small print, the overall purpose was to make the user believe they were on 5G. That is obvious. The E and + will not mean anything to most users. All they see is the 5G, which many recognize.
I believe there is some serious concern among the carriers that the consumer is not going to fall all over 5G as has been trumpeted for the last year or so. Therefore, in an attempt to do damage control, they (in this case AT&T) come up with some “creative marketing.” More evidence that there is a bit of worry about adoption is Verizon’s addition to the marketing spin. It has just launched what they call “Let’s 5G!” It is an initiative to help citizens lobby their elected officials to push for 5G infrastructure deployment.
Verizon claims the initiative has the potential to reduce the bottlenecks caused by sluggish local zoning action. I will dissect that in a future dialog. However, they must be living in a state where pot is legal and they are imbibing. Do they really think the consumer is going to waste time by getting involved in 5G to make it happen? Consumers have many more things of higher importance on their minds than working on local officials to bring 5G to the masses.
Most of what is going on in the next-gen wireless market is shuffling. There is now even talk of 6G, which to me, is utterly ludicrous. It is just another empty discussion with no real meaning, yet.
However, I digress; let us go back to the lawsuit topic. I believe Sprint has some valid points in its complaint (putting aside that I think the entire 5G debacle is pure schmegegge) from a purely empirical perspective. Let us unpack that and look at a couple of the issues.
Sprint claims that what AT&T is insinuating is something that does not exist. That is true. There are no 5G networks, other than some trials and very small, bounded, deployments. Therefore, by extrapolation, AT&T is lying. Sprint’s argument is that AT&T is damaging them and the industry, in general, by attempting to deceive users into thinking 5G is here when it is not. Sprint points out there are no 5G-enabled mobile phones that are capable of connecting directly to a 5G network (of which AT&T’s is only a hotspot, anyway).
Sprint supports its deception claim by asserting AT&T is doing three illegal things. First, Sprint asserts that AT&T is engaging in false advertising. Second, Sprint claims that this false advertising is deceiving the public. Last, AT&T’s actions are harmful to its business.
Sprint may be right. A Reuters report noted that Sprint’s market research found AT&T’s deceptive ploy is working, to some degree. Fifty-four percent of AT&T’s consumers believed their “5GE” network is the same as, or better than, a 5G network. Forty-three percent said if they buy an AT&T phone today, it would be capable of running on 5G.
AT&T’s response is exactly what one would expect. They are saying that the competitors are just whining because AT&T has a better network. They go on to say, “The 5GE indicator simply lets customers know when their device is in an area where speeds up to twice as fast as standard LTE are available.” Well, that is nothing but marketing mumbo-jumbo. Standard 4G LTE is only 100 Mbps; Plus is 300 Mbps. So, twice as fast is up to 200 Mbps or up to 600 Mbps. In either case, these are not 5G speeds, obviously.
Moreover, AT&T says, “customers want and deserve to know when they are getting better speeds.” That may well be true, but saying these better speeds are 5G is false. AT&T also is claiming that the backlash is from the competition’s “frustration” because they are first out the door with 5G.”
It is generally accepted (from an unofficial poll I conducted of contemporaries and from my personal experience over the years) that Verizon has the best network in terms of reliability and coverage. That seems to be validated with a test by OpenSignal, in late 2018, which found AT&T’s average download speeds, nationwide, were slower than Verizon’s and T-Mobile’s 4G networks. Sprint is the only major carrier that AT&T beat in that ranking. Therefore, I believe there is some truth to the claims that AT&T is desperate to gain some market share and Sprint is using the lawsuit to retain theirs.
Sprint argues that by claiming its service is 5G when it is really 4G AT&T attempts to secure an unfair advantage in a highly competitive and saturated wireless market. AT&T fires back that “we’re being very clear with our customers that this is an evolutionary step.” I have to disagree with that. From what I have been able to dig up, the carrier is using the typical small print buried layers deep, which companies typically use to stay just on the edge of legality.
So, now we have the gist of what is going on, what does Sprint want? Well, the complaint states that Sprint wants relief. That is typical legal jargon to cover a wide area for whatever it takes to achieve what the plaintiff is asking. In essence, they want AT&T to be prohibited from using “5G”, in any form, until it really is 5G. In addition, it wants financial compensation for damages. That is where it stands now. It will be interesting if this, actually, gets to a trial.
As well, it will be interesting to see what AT&T will continue to do and how the T-Mo and Sprint merger will play into this. It is certainly an interesting start to 2019.