T-Mobile can’t claim to have the ‘best’ 5G network, ad body says

November 5, 2020, 4:01 PM UTC

T-Mobile can continue to say it will have the “largest 5G network” with “more coverage” than rivals, but it can’t claim it will be the “best” or the “most reliable.”

That’s the split-decision verdict rendered by the advertising industry’s self-regulatory body, the National Advertising Division of BBB National Programs, on Thursday.

After merging with Sprint this year, T-Mobile began combining the two companies’ wireless networks while upgrading to 5G, the new superfast technology that will eventually allow download speeds 10 to 100 times as fast as 4G networks. T-Mobile also started touting the future benefits of its upcoming 5G network in TV ads, which rival Verizon challenged at the NAD.

Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T are pouring tens of billions of dollars into upgrading their networks for 5G but none of the three have yet achieved the breadth or reliability of coverage of their older 4G networks. Verizon’s network is the fastest, though with the smallest coverage, while AT&T has much more coverage, but speeds that can be slower than 4G at times. And T-Mobile falls somewhere in the middle for both coverage and speed.

As a result, the three carriers are fighting a marketing battle on TV and online. Verizon got dinged by the NAD in July for exaggerating the progress of its 5G rollout. And in May, AT&T was told to drop ads claiming that a version of its 4G network that it labeled as “5G Evolution” was the “first step to 5G.”

The board’s split decision on T-Mobile’s ads focused on claims for the future versus claims for the present. T-Mobile’s new 5G network being built with Sprint’s old airwaves covers an area with only about 25 million people, with a goal to reach 100 million people by year-end. That makes it the largest 5G network offering a particular high-speed version of the technology, but still is a long way from nationwide coverage, the NAD noted.

“NAD concluded that consumers could reasonably interpret these claims to mean that due to the recent merger T-Mobile is imminently poised to become, comparatively speaking, the ‘Best Network,’ or that this ‘Best Network’ will be imminently available to the vast number of T-Mobile customers, or will soon provide ‘the most reliable 5G network,’” the group explained. NAD recommended that the ads “be modified to avoid conveying such messages.”

Fortune has asked T-Mobile for comment and will update this story if it responds.

The NAD said T-Mobile agreed to drop the disputed claims.

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