The National Advertising Division (NAD) of the U.S. Better Business Bureaus (BBB) has told T-Mobile US to stop certain advertising claims about its 5G network, claims that were challenged by competitor Verizon. The NAD said the operator should discontinue ads saying it is America’s “most reliable network” and that competitor Verizon’s latest strategy “is to steal bandwidth from their 4G.” It should also eliminate implied claims that low-band 5G using DSS is inferior to low-band 5G employing standalone, concluding that T-Mobile’s low-band 5G network is better than Verizon’s.
T-Mobile said it will appeal the decision, saying it relied for many of its claims on an audit report conducted by the independent research firm umlaut. The study used crowdsourced data collected from mobile customers, testing for ability to find and connect to 5G and to complete operations on that network and for sufficient speeds to support popular services for 5G. The NAD found that umlaut’s methodology for testing the reliability of 5G networks was not a good fit for the messages in the advertisements, adding that there was no data to show that T-Mobile’s network was superior in the ways tested. The other claims were also said to be unfounded.
T-Mobile’s experience here is a warning or at last an object lesson for operators seeking to attract positive attention for their network development. While T-Mobile did enlist an independent research firm to assess its service, a U.S. regulatory agency is questioning the validity of the findings in relation to the public claims. Even if the findings of such a study are valid or at least defensible, the translation from technical reports into advertising language can be a tricky matter. As the event unfolded, T-Mobile ended up reaping relatively bad publicity rather than good publicity from this effort. And of course removing or altering advertisements, if that occurs, involves a waste of financial resources.
Then there is the larger issue of competitor disparagement. T-Mobile has long had a strategy of presenting itself as a market disruptor, which involves a certain amount of negative rhetoric about its larger competitors. When it comes to 5G, though, a more positive tone may be the better way to go. The rollout of the new technology is a watershed event throughout the U.S. mobile market, and on that basis, it is likely that a rising tide will lift all boats. At this transition, delicate time, promoting the benefits of 5G is a good strategy, and disparaging anyone’s 5G implementation has the potential to cast doubt on the technology in general.