Sprint, AT&T Settle 5G Semantics Dispute, Consumers Not Better Off

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Several weeks after Sprint filed a lawsuit against AT&T over the latter's use of 5G Evolution (5GE) branding, the two carriers announced that they had settled the case.

While the two companies did not provide additional information about the settlement, industry sources report that the agreement allows AT&T to continue using 5G Evolution branding for advertising purposes. However, it is not yet clear if AT&T is allowed to continue displaying the 5GE icon on the screens of smartphones.

Even though it was only in February that Sprint filed a lawsuit against AT&T, the second largest national carrier in the United States has been using the 5G Evolution branding since 2017, with the service provider first launching the service in Austin, Texas and later expanding to the rest of the United States.

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While it uses the name 5G, AT&T's 5G Evolution is merely an improvement over the existing 4G LTE standards through the incorporation of technologies like advanced carrier aggregation, 4×4 MIMO, and 256-QAM data modulation. These technologies increase the maximum download speeds experienced by users by increasing the bandwidth available to subscribers and boosting the amount of data delivered in a single transmission.

In its initial announcement in 2017, AT&T claims that its 5G Evolution network can offer maximum data rates of up to 400Mbps, which is significantly slower than the theoretical speed limit of 1Gbps that real 5G networks can achieve. However, AT&T's rationale for branding its LTE network as 5G Evolution is that the carrier's upgraded 4G network already includes technologies that will serve as a foundation for the company's 5G networks.

The service provider continued to expand the coverage of its 5G Evolution network in 2018. However, competing carriers escalated the criticisms of the 5GE branding when AT&T rolled out an update to Android smartphones that replaced the LTE designator to 5GE whenever a handset connects to a base station already upgraded with 5G Evolution technology.

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In reaction to AT&T's 5G Evolution branding, Verizon noted that it would not call its existing 4G network as a 5G service. On the other hand, T-Mobile released a short video that mocks AT&T's branding.

However, Sprint was more intense with its response to AT&T's branding, with Sprint's chief technology officer accusing AT&T of blatantly misleading consumers with its 5GE brand. In addition to releasing a statement criticizing AT&T's actions, Sprint also filed a lawsuit last February that initially aimed to prevent AT&T from using the 5GE icon on smartphones. Sprint sued AT&T after the carrier discovered through a commissioned survey that the majority of respondents believe that AT&T's 5GE network is better or the same compared to 5G networks. The same poll also showed that a substantial percentage of consumers thought that AT&T already offers 5G-capable smartphones.

With this settlement, users will continue to see 5G Evolution advertisements from AT&T, although there could be other changes associated with the agreement that subscribers may see soon. Nonetheless, AT&T is already rolling its standards-based 5G network, although it is only available in a handful of locations. However, AT&T stated that it would continue expanding its 5G coverage over the next few months, and it expects to have nationwide mobile 5G coverage by the year 2020.

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