T-Mobile advised to stop claims about 5G reliability

T-Mobile 5G
NAD said it did not accept T-Mobile's argument that superior coverage means superior reliability. (T-Mobile)

T-Mobile can keep telling consumers that its 5G service is faster than 4G and offers more coverage than rivals' 5G, but the National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs recommends that it stop claims that its 5G network is more reliable than competitors’ 4G or 5G networks.

The recommendation comes after Verizon challenged claims that T-Mobile has been making in TV and online advertisements. NAD is an investigative unit that reviews national ads across media for truthfulness and accuracy. 

T-Mobile started calling its rivals AT&T and Verizon “dumb and dumber” years ago under former CEO John Legere, but it’s been particularly focused on slamming Big Red. Verizon for years boasted that it offered the best wireless network and it grabbed the network crown with LTE, but T-Mobile has leap-frogged the competition in 5G coverage.

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To drive the knife into Verizon even deeper, T-Mobile recently launched a commercial comparing its 5G coverage map to Verizon’s, saying Verizon covers less than 1% of the country with 5G and T-Mobile has more 5G coverage than AT&T and Verizon combined.

Verizon’s lack of 5G coverage is tied to its strategy of using millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum to differentiate its 5G from 4G; mmWave signals don’t travel far or penetrate buildings very well but offer super speeds. T-Mobile’s 600 MHz signals travel farther and can cover more places. Verizon has said it plans to deploy dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) in order to get a nationwide 5G coverage layer this year.

Interestingly, NAB said it determined that T-Mobile was able to support claims that its 5G service is faster than a competitor’s 4G, as well as its own 4G. That 5G is faster than 4G may sound like a no-brainer, but when T-Mobile launched nationwide 5G using its 600 MHz spectrum late last year, it admitted that at launch, 5G users might experience incremental speed boosts compared with T-Mobile’s LTE and in some areas, speeds might be the same as LTE. At the time, it said average speeds would increase with the merger of Sprint and the acquisition of its coveted 2.5 GHz spectrum.

NAD said it considered T-Mobile’s evidence offered in support of “express and implied challenged superiority claims” that its 5G network provides better coverage and is more reliable than the 5G networks of competing providers. NAD determined that T-Mobile provided a reasonable basis for claims regarding better coverage. However, NAD did not accept T-Mobile’s argument that superior coverage means superior reliability.

While the general coverage claims withstood the NAD’s review, NAD is recommending that T-Mobile stop claiming that its 5G service is generally available in locations that have traditionally been challenging for cellular service, such as basements and elevators – or disclose, “clearly and conspicuously, the typical performance of T-Mobile’s 5G.”

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Verizon had also challenged a demonstration depicting competing 5G service as delivering a coverage area that’s barely larger than the bench of a bus stop, as Bill Nye states in a commercial: “Other carriers have 5G signals that drop if you move two feet” and “This is how far 5G reaches with other carriers.”

NAD recommended that T-Mobile discontinue those claims and the accompanying demonstration “because there was no evidence that Verizon’s coverage is so limited in any area as to cover only a single bench, and T-Mobile’s disclosure, ‘A slight exaggeration, other 5G signals can cover whole blocks!’ contradicts the main claim and is, therefore, insufficient to cure the misleading message.”

T-Mobile told the NAD that it would appeal NAD’s adverse recommendations to BBB National Programs National Advertising Review Board. Neither T-Mobile nor Verizon responded to requests for comment.

RELATED: Verizon to stop certain ad claims of 5G coverage

Earlier this year, Verizon agreed to stop certain 5G ads after the NAD determined some claims could mislead consumers about the carrier’s 5G availability and typical speeds. AT&T had challenged Verizon in the context of two TV commercials.

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