Verizon’s ‘fastest 5G’ claim stands up in NAD ruling

Verizon can continue using the slogan “fastest 5G in the world” in TV commercials, but it needs to make clear that it only pertains to its millimeter wave (mmWave) network, according to the National Advertising Division (NAD) of BBB National Programs.

NAD issued its decision after AT&T complained that Verizon’s “fastest 5G in the world” statement is misleading because in reality, virtually no consumer will experience that speed due to the poor coverage. Last year, reports pegged Verizon’s mmWave 5G at just 0.5% availability, meaning that 99.5% of the time, Verizon subscribers were not in a location where they could access the mmWave service.

In its defense, Verizon presented results of a May 2020 Opensignal report and was able to successfully argue its case.

“We reviewed the claim ‘Fastest 5G in the World’ and it was supported by third-party testing on Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband Network. The same third party now tests Verizon’s combined 5G Ultra Wideband and Nationwide networks and we did not review any testing on speeds combined on their low band and high band 5G networks,” said NAD Vice President Laura Brett in a statement provided to Fierce.

The ad watchdog group considered whether consumers’ ability to connect to Verizon’s Ultra Wideband 0.5% of the time “rendered the comparative speed claim of so little consumer relevance as to warrant precluding Verizon from making the claim.” However, in the TV commercial in question – where a series of Verizon engineers in various cities are featured – the message “available only in parts of select cities” is sufficient, according to NAD.

Both Verizon and AT&T submitted the May 2020 Opensignal report to support their arguments. AT&T also submitted an excerpt of a Mosaik coverage chart showing Verizon’s 5G availability as of June 2020. Among other things, Verizon submitted a declaration by Heidi Hemmer, vice president of Network Engineering at Verizon, who attested that Verizon had far more mmWave deployed by September 2020 than AT&T and Mosaik believed.

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NAD made it clear in its decision that technology changes fast, and advertisers need to keep that in mind – and provide up-to-date substantiation for their claims. For example, a February 2020 Opensignal report measured T-Mobile’s low-band and higher-band offerings separately because at the time, consumers had to choose between a 5G smartphone that either supported one or the other; no model was available that supported both. But by May 2020, a smartphone was available that was able to access both T-Mobile’s low-band 5G and higher-band 5G.

One might wonder how Verizon can make the claim of fastest “in the world.” Who tested every single network in the world? The defense relies, again, on Opensignal. In its May 2020 report, Opensignal said: “… we found that Verizon’s mmWave-based 5G service offers a very considerably faster average 5G Download Speeds of 494.7, which is faster than the average 5G download speeds Opensignal has seen on any operator, or in any country to date, including Saudi Arabia.”

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NAD acknowledged AT&T’s concern that consumers could be confused by Verizon’s Ultra Wideband claims, which use mmWave spectrum to deliver super speeds, versus Verizon’s nationwide service that uses low-band spectrum. NAD advised Verizon that it needs to carefully craft its claims to make it clear that “fastest 5G” applies only to the Ultra Wideband service.

Last fall, Verizon announced the nationwide availability of its 5G service, which uses dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) and lower spectrum bands, resulting if much slower speeds than its limited mmWave offerings. That gives Verizon the ability to tout a nationwide 5G service, but the benefits of 5G at lower bands are pretty much negligible for any operator.