The United States’ National Advertising Review Board (NARB) has recommended that T-Mobile US discontinue ads that imply that the operator’s 5G is more reliable than its competitors’ 4G/LTE and that no 5G network is more reliable than its own 5G network. The ads also imply that the company’s 5G service is generally available in areas that traditionally have been challenging for mobile service, and they state that other operators’ 5G networks are so limited that they “cover only the space taken up by a single bench.” The ads centered around a four-minute video titled “Bill Nye Explains 5G,” available on the T-Mobile website.
The challenge to the ads was made by Verizon. In the disputed advertising, T-Mobile claimed advantage for its 5G network, which is based on low-band wavelength technology, over Verizon’s high-band 5G Ultra Wideband network.
The NARB panel determined that T-Mobile’s 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. The other claims were also rejected.
T-Mobile said 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.”
At this point in the development of 5G, operators are still dealing with the tradeoffs involved in a technology that has not fully matured. Low-band spectrum, which T-Mobile uses for its 5G service, has coverage as its strength and speed as its weakness, whereas Verizon’s solution, which depends on millimeter-wave spectrum, finds its strength in speed while coverage is its weakness. These sacrifices are legitimate and understandable at the present stage of 5G development, and customers may want to choose one or the other for reasons of their own, depending on their circumstances.
Operators could express an understanding of these realities and work with them, to their advantage in some cases. But a willful disregard for the realities, motivating advertising and marketing campaigns that ignore the facts and make false or misleading comparisons, serves no one—not the customers and ultimately not the operators either.
The National Advertising Review Board has ruled on the matter and T-Mobile has acknowledged the ruling. It is to be hoped that 5G promotion in the U.S. market in the future will be truth-based, and the facts of the matter support the proposition that the unvarnished truth about 5G solutions is persuasive enough for good business. If the emerging high-speed mobile technology is to fulfill its potential, operators would do best to work cooperatively rather than at cross-purposes.