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Some of T-Mobile's 5G claims slapped down by advertising arbiter

by NARB
NEW YORK A panel of the National Advertising Review Board (NARB), the appellate advertising law body of BBB National Programs, on an appeal from a decision of the National Advertising Division (NAD) (Case No. 6396) has recommended that T-Mobile:

  • Discontinue claims that imply 5G is currently more reliable than 4G, including claims that imply that its 5G is currently more reliable than competitors' 4G, and its claims that no 5G network is more reliable than T-Mobile's 5G network;
  • Discontinue claims that imply that its 5G service is generally available in locations that have traditionally been challenging for cellular service, or disclose, clearly and conspicuously, the typical performance of T-Mobile's 5G network in those locations; and
  • Discontinue claims and an accompanying demonstration that imply that other carriers' 5G coverage is so limited in any area as to cover only the space taken up by a single bench.

The panel also found that T-Mobile's superior coverage claims did not imply overall network superiority, rejecting NAD's conclusion that such claims required the disclosure of material differences.

The advertising at issue had been challenged by Verizon Communications Inc. The challenged claims were contained principally in a four-minute video, "Bill Nye Explains 5G," available on a T-Mobile website.

The disputed advertising relates to T-Mobile's claimed advantage for its 5G network based on low-band wavelength technology compared to Verizon's high-band 5G Ultra Wideband network. At the time of the challenge, T-Mobile's 5G network was based primarily on low-band spectrum, which has advantages in terms of facilitating broader network coverage, but at the sacrifice of other characteristics such as network speed. Verizon, by contrast, originally based its 5G network on mmWave spectrum, giving its 5G Ultra Wideband network the capacity to offer faster speeds while sacrificing coverage.

The NARB panel determined that T-Mobile's express reliability assertions would be understood as comparing its 5G network to 4G networks, and that this message cannot be supported based on coverage, as T-Mobile's 5G network does not equal or surpass its own 4G coverage or that of competitors. Further, the panel concluded that, in context, the claim that T-Mobile's low-band 5G signal is more reliable than competing 5G signals should be evaluated with at least some insight concerning network performance beyond coverage. Because T-Mobile offered no such support for its 5G network reliability claims, parity or otherwise, the panel recommended that T-Mobile's 5G reliability claims be discontinued.

Further, the panel recommended that T-Mobile discontinue claims that imply its 5G service is generally available in locations that have traditionally been challenging for cellular service, or disclose, clearly and conspicuously, the typical performance of T-Mobile's 5G network in those areas. The panel noted that T-Mobile did not present any evidence to show the degree to which its 5G network can be accessed in cellars, parking garages, elevators, or similar locations.

The panel also addressed T-Mobile's claims that 5G signals from competing carriers have extremely limited coverage. In the Bill Nye video, Mr. Nye's statement that "Other carriers have 5G signals that drop if you move two feet" is accompanied by a visual showing coverage limited to the area taken up by a typical bus bench. The panel concluded that this bus-stop sequence communicates a misleading message about the limited scope of Verizon's 5G Ultra Wideband service.

Finally, the panel determined that T-Mobile's superior 5G coverage claims do not imply overall network superiority. Therefore, in a departure from NAD's recommendation, the panel concluded that material differences between T-Mobile's network and competing networks (e.g., speed) need not be disclosed with the superior coverage claims.

T-Mobile stated that it will comply with the panel's decision and that it "appreciates that the panel agreed that T-Mobile can continue to advertise its superior 5G coverage without qualification."

NARB

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