Sprint's CTO released a statement yesterday, after two of their competitors had mocked AT&T updating some of its smartphones to show a "5G E" icon in place of the "4G LTE" icon in the status bar. Verizon stated that it wouldn't call its 4G network a 5G network, and T-Mobile posted a short video showing them upgrading an iPhone to 9G. Meanwhile Sprint's CTO, John Saw, said in a statement that "AT&T is blatantly misleading consumers - 5G E is not real 5G." He went on to detail Sprint's plans for its own 5G network, which will begin in 2019. Stating that "Sprint will launch and market real 5G that is standards-based in the first half of 2019. We're designing our mobile 5G footprint at launch to cover the downtown metro areas of nine top cities, with sights on providing our customers with contiguous coverage using the first 5G smartphone in the US."
AT&T's new 5G E or 5G Evolution, update has been getting a lot of attention in the past few days, and that is because AT&T is now sending out the update to some phones that changes the status bar to say 5G E instead of 4G LTE. The company announced that it would start doing this last month, but it appears that its competitors didn't really think AT&T would do it. Now that the update is out there for three different smartphones, it appears that AT&T was serious. Now this is not the first time that AT&T has marketed its network as something it was not. About a decade ago, when LTE was beginning to take off, the company had begun rolling out HSPA+ which was actually an upgrade to 3G, but it was not quite 4G-classified. However that did not stop AT&T from marketing it as "4G". And AT&T was not alone, with T-Mobile doing the exact same thing - though T-Mobile was doing HSPA+ 42, which was actually faster than some LTE networks at the time. The difference this time around is that AT&T has not made any upgrades to its LTE network. It is essentially just renaming its current network to 5G E to mislead customers into thinking their phone is connected to 5G, when it is not.
Sprint is taking its time with 5G, so it doesn't get burned again
When 4G was the next big thing, around a decade ago, Sprint was excited. It was one of the first to roll out 4G. The only issue for Sprint was, it bet heavily on the wrong technology for 4G. It thought that the industry would be using WiMax, and instead the industry decided on LTE. So that left Sprint with spending millions to upgrade many markets to WiMax, only to have to rip it out and end up replacing it with LTE. This also became a problem for smartphone makers that were working with Sprint on new smartphones. As it had to make a version specific to Sprint that supported WiMax, seeing as the rest of the world was using LTE. Eventually, Sprint had to pull the plug on WiMax, and go ahead and use LTE for its network. But it put them far behind their competitors, and ultimately cost them millions that they didn't have to spend.
Sprint is taking its time with 5G so that it doesn't have a repeat of WiMax, but also because it is waiting for the regulators to approve the merger between it and T-Mobile. The two companies announced that they would be merging, last year. It is currently being reviewed by regulators, and with the government shutdown right now, it's delaying the approval even longer. Though T-Mobile still expects the merger to be completed in the first half of this year. The two are making the argument that as a combined carrier, it can compete better with the "duopoly" of Verizon and AT&T, and by combining the spectrum that both companies have, it can build a robust 5G network without relying on millimeter-wave, which is going to cost billions to roll out, not to mention output much more radiation than sub-6 would. Sprint's 2.5GHz spectrum it acquired after buying Clearwire many moons ago, is going to be a big driver in the combined company's 5G network.
Despite Sprint needing something to really boost its customers and revenue numbers, it has committed to not misleading customers, and that is something the industry should applaud. Of course, by misleading customers, Sprint would also be opening itself up to class-action lawsuits, and that's something else Sprint can't afford right now, with all the other debt it currently has.