T-Mobile Appeals National Advertising Division Recommendation to Discontinue "America's . . . Most Reliable 5G Network" and Other Claims

Published: Nov. 23, 2021 at 6:00 AM HST

NEW YORK, Nov. 23, 2021 /PRNewswire/ -- The National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs recommended that T-Mobile US, Inc. discontinue certain advertising claims for T-Mobile's 5G network. T-Mobile will appeal NAD's decision. The claims, which appeared in television, radio, and internet advertising, were challenged by Verizon Communications, Inc.

National Advertising Division (NAD) (PRNewsfoto/National Advertising Division,B)
National Advertising Division (NAD) (PRNewsfoto/National Advertising Division,B)

NAD recommended that T-Mobile discontinue the following claims:

  • "America's . . . most reliable network";
  • "Verizon's latest strategy is to steal bandwidth from their 4G"; and
  • The implied claims that low-band 5G employing DSS technology is inferior to low-band 5G employing standalone spectrum and that T-Mobile's low-band 5G network provides a substantively different and better experience than Verizon's low band 5G.

In support of its "America's  . . . most reliable network" claim, T-Mobile relied on the results of an audit report conducted by umlaut. The umlaut report uses crowdsourced data (about 250 Key Performance Indicators and billions of data points daily from devices in the United States) collected from actual mobile customers via various apps that can be installed on an end user's phone. NAD noted that umlaut's scoring for 5G network reliability tested the following three metrics: (1) ability to find 5G coverage; (2) ability to connect to the 5G network and complete the transactions of the 5G network; and (3) ability to provide sufficient DL speeds to support popular services for 5G users.

However, NAD found that umlaut's methodology for testing the reliability of 5G networks was not a good fit for the messages reasonably conveyed by a reliability claim (i.e., more than just speed and coverage). NAD noted that umlaut testing measures two coverage metrics and one speed metric. While NAD agreed that speed and coverage are important to consider when talking about 5G network reliability, speed and coverage alone cannot support a reliability claim.

NAD noted that there is no data to show that T-Mobile's network is superior to competing networks in allowing consumers to access the network and stay connected to complete a session or accomplish a specific task.

Therefore, NAD determined that the underlying "most reliable" 5G network claim is not supported and recommended that T-Mobile discontinue its "America's  . . . most reliable 5G network" claim. NAD noted that nothing in its decision prevents T-Mobile from accurately touting umlaut's award based on coverage and speed, if accurate.

NAD also considered whether the "most reliable" 5G network claim conveys the implied message that T-Mobile has been judged America's "most reliable" 5G network by an independent test not commissioned by T-Mobile. NAD noted that umlaut independently developed metrics to test the performance of 5G networks, applied those metrics to data it collected independently, and T-Mobile then paid umlaut for the right to feature the results of the audit in its advertising. Therefore, NAD concluded that there was no material connection between T-Mobile and umlaut that required disclosure.

Further, regarding the claim "Verizon's strategy is to steal bandwidth from their 4G," NAD determined that the net impression from the challenged advertising is that T-Mobile provides a superior 5G experience because they give consumers 5G on a standalone network and in general that 5G provided via Digital Satellite System (DSS) is an inferior service. Because the evidence did not support the message that Verizon's use of DSS to provide consumers with 5G rather than using a standalone network equates to "stealing," NAD recommended that the express claim be discontinued.

NAD also concluded that the evidence provided by T-Mobile could not be used to support the implied superiority claim that T-Mobile's low band 5G is better than Verizon's low band 5G network. Accordingly, NAD recommended that T-Mobile discontinue the implied claim that low band 5G employing DSS technology is inferior to low band 5G employing standalone spectrum and that T-Mobile's low band 5G network provides a substantively different and better experience than Verizon's low band 5G.

In its advertiser statement, T-Mobile stated that it "will appeal NAD's decision." Further, the advertiser referenced umlaut's determination that "T-Mobile's 5G network is the most reliable 5G network in the United States" and stated that "like other similarly situated advertisers, T-Mobile should be able to advertise this independent award. Because T-Mobile strongly disagrees with NAD's recommendation that it not do so, it will appeal NAD's decision." Such appeals of NAD decisions are made to the BBB National Programs' National Advertising Review Board (NARB), the appellate-level truth-in-advertising body of BBB National Programs.

All BBB National Programs case decision summaries can be found in the case decision library. For the full text of NAD, NARB, and CARU decisions, subscribe to the online archive.

About BBB National Programs: BBB National Programs is where businesses turn to enhance consumer trust and consumers are heard. The non-profit organization creates a fairer playing field for businesses and a better experience for consumers through the development and delivery of effective third-party accountability and dispute resolution programs. Embracing its role as an independent organization since the restructuring of the Council of Better Business Bureaus in June 2019, BBB National Programs today oversees more than a dozen leading national industry self-regulation programs, and continues to evolve its work and grow its impact by providing business guidance and fostering best practices in arenas such as advertising, child-directed marketing, and privacy. To learn more, visit bbbprograms.org.

About the National Advertising Division: The National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs provides independent self-regulation and dispute resolution services, guiding the truthfulness of advertising across the U.S. NAD reviews national advertising in all media and its decisions set consistent standards for advertising truth and accuracy, delivering meaningful protection to consumers and leveling the playing field for business.

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