NAD Declines to Rely on Crowd-Sourced Data to Support T-Mobile’s ‘Fastest Claim,’ Okays Coverage Claim Based on People Covered, But Not Geographic Reach

New York, NY – Sept. 28, 2017  – The National Advertising Division has recommended that T-Mobile USA, Inc., discontinue certain advertising claims made in television, print and internet advertisements, but found the company could support a modified claim about the number of people covered by its network.
NAD is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation and is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

NAD noted in its decision that network innovations and service conditions constantly change the competitive landscape of the wireless services industry.  NAD cautions advertisers to regularly monitor and reexamine their advertising claims to make certain that the underlying data upon which they are based is current so that their advertising claims are truthful, and recognizes that changes to a network or network service conditions will impact whether a service provider’s comparative claims are supported.

In this case, Verizon Communications, Inc., challenged T-Mobile claims to the “fastest” 4GLTE Network.

During the course of NAD’s review, T-Mobile discontinued the commercial that featured the “fastest” claim, described Verizon’s LTE network as “older,” “slower,” and “they limit you,” and asked the question “Why doesn’t Verizon offer unlimited data like T-Mobile?” The challenged advertising further claimed that T-Mobile’s LTE network was newer, faster and unlimited.

After the challenge was filed, Verizon began offering unlimited data plans and T-Mobile discontinued the challenged commercial.  T-Mobile, did not, however, permanently discontinue claims that its network is newer and faster than Verizon’s.

In past decisions, NAD has evaluated consumer understanding of a “fastest” technology claim and whether the support for the claim is consistent with how consumers understand the claim.

Here, T-Mobile relied upon crowd-sourced data from Ookla and Open Signal as support for its claim that it has the “Fastest 4G LTE network.” Verizon argued that the universe of users who download the Ookla and Open Signal apps is a subset of all smartphone users that is likely to include more sophisticated consumers who are interested in monitoring the speed they experience when using their mobile device.  Ookla-measured speeds for Verizon customers may have slowed at the end of their monthly billing cycle when Verizon customers reached data limits and experienced deprioritization.

Verizon customers, who were experiencing deprioritization for the first time during the time period for which T-Mobile provided crowd sourced data, may have monitored their speeds more closely than customers of T-Mobile who had past experience with data deprioritization.  Because the speed tests may have oversampled deprioritized Verizon customers, Verizon argued, T-Mobile’s data may have misrepresented the comparative 4G LTE speeds most Verizon customers actually experience.

Following its review, NAD concluded that the Ookla and Open Signal Speed test results in the month after Verizon introduced unlimited data plans might have had a bias in favor of T-Mobile and as a result did not support a comparative claim that T-Mobile has the fastest 4G LTE network.  NAD recommended T-Mobile discontinue claims that it has the fastest 4G LTE network.  NAD also recommended that T-Mobile discontinue claims that its LTE network is “newer” than Verizon’s and that Verizon’s LTE network is “older.”
NAD also reviewed challenged claims that included:

  • T-Mobile has near-equivalent area and/or geographic coverage as Verizon
  • T-Mobile covers 99% of the area covered by Verizon
  • T-Mobile covers 313,312 or “311 Million and Counting” Americans with 4G LTE
  • T-Mobile “covers 99% of the Americans that Verizon covers” and 99% of Verizon’s customers

Regarding T-Mobile’s “coverage claims,” NAD concluded that T-Mobile had provided a reasonable basis for its coverage calculation that it covers 99.7% as many Americans as Verizon, but noted that it was concerned that, in some contexts, a claim comparing the number of people covered could convey a message about geographic coverage.  T-Mobile acknowledged that it does not have 99.7% of the geographic coverage as Verizon. To the extent that T-Mobile advertises comparative coverage claims based on calculations of covered populations, NAD recommended that the advertiser modify advertising to remove imagery that conveys the message that T-Mobile is comparing its geographic coverage to Verizon’s, and otherwise make clear that its coverage comparison is based on population covered.

T-Mobile, in its advertiser’s statement, said the company “agrees to comply with NAD’s recommendations.”

Note: A recommendation by NAD to modify or discontinue a claim is not a finding of wrongdoing and an advertiser’s voluntary discontinuance or modification of claims should not be construed as an admission of impropriety. It is the policy of NAD not to endorse any company, product, or service. Decisions finding that advertising claims have been substantiated should not be construed as endorsements.