NAD Recommends T-Mobile Discontinue ‘Best Unlimited Network’ Claim; Advertiser to Appeal

New York, NY – May 21, 2018 – The National Advertising Division has recommended that T-Mobile USA, Inc., discontinue its “Best Unlimited Network” advertising claims. T-Mobile said it will appeal NAD’s decision to the National Advertising Review Board.

NAD is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

The claim at issue in this case, which appeared in internet, television and radio advertising for T-Mobile wireless service was challenged by AT&T Services, Inc., a competing provider of wireless services.

NAD reviewed the following:

  • “T-Mobile is America’s Best Unlimited Network*”
    • *“Video typically streams at 480p. On all T-Mobile plans, if congested, top 3% of data users (>32 GB/mo.) may notice reduced speeds due to prioritization. Does not depict coverage.”
  • “Welcome to America’s best unlimited network”

NAD also considered whether the claim implied that T-Mobile has America’s best overall network or that T-Mobile’s network has the best coverage.

NAD noted in its decision that wireless service providers have, for many years, claimed to be superior to their competitors in various attributes, with claims like “fastest,” “largest,” “best coverage,” or “most reliable.”

NAD has held that while wireless service providers should be free to truthfully promote the advantages that their innovations provide consumers, comparative advertising claims must be substantiated to avoid misleading consumers and to ensure that wireless service providers compete on a level playing field.

As support for its “Best Unlimited Network” claim, T-Mobile provided data from two independent sources, Ookla and OpenSignal, showing that it provided superior data speeds to its customers as compared to its major competitors. It demonstrated that in August 2017, T-Mobile became the first U.S. carrier to sweep all six OpenSignal network awards, covering 4G and 3G download speeds, overall download speeds, 4G and 3G latency, and 4G signal availability.

T-Mobile added that data from Ookla’s Speedtest Intelligence database corroborated T-Mobile’s superior speed claims and that data collected by Ookla for the third quarter of 2017 found T-Mobile to have the highest LTE download and upload speeds. T-Mobile contended that its superiority in latency and 4G signal availability further showed that its network was the best in the market for consumers of unlimited high-speed mobile data. T-Mobile also cited the additional benefits that it offers to its unlimited data plan customers, which, it argued, are superior to the extras offered to other networks’ unlimited data plan customers.

AT&T argued that the Ookla and OpenSignal tests were a poor fit for the challenged claim.

NAD, following its review of the evidence in the record, concluded that even if it accepted the evidence as reliable, the evidence didn’t match the breadth of the “Best Unlimited Network” claim.

NAD noted in its decision that the advertiser did not provide evidence that its network is superior in providing talk and text mobile services, or in providing high-speed data more reliably or to a greater coverage area. Further, NAD noted, the promotion of various features to T-Mobile’s unlimited plan subscribers – including a higher deprioritization threshold – are elements of T-Mobile’s unlimited plans, not the T-Mobile network, and do not support the “Best Unlimited Network” claim.

T-Mobile argued that, to the extent that consumers factor other attributes into their understanding of what makes a mobile network the “Best Unlimited Network,” superiority of data speed is so great that it overcomes any disparities in other network measurement categories.

NAD concluded, however, that there was no evidence in the record to support the argument that, for consumers, speed outweighs coverage or reliability in evaluating a network.

In the absence of specific evidence showing that network speed is paramount in the minds of consumers, NAD determined that the advertiser’s speed, latency and 4G signal reliability evidence was insufficient to support T-Mobile’s broad network superiority claim and recommended T-Mobile discontinue its “Best Unlimited Network” claim.

NAD also evaluated AT&T’s argument that T-Mobile’s “Best Unlimited Network” claim conveyed a superior coverage message when used in conjunction with coverage claims by T-Mobile.  NAD concluded that the coverage claims in question, including “our 4G LTE coverage has doubled since 2015,” were monadic in nature and did not convey a comparative superior coverage message when used on their own.

T-Mobile, in its advertiser’s statement, said the company is a “long-time supporter of the self-regulatory process, but is disappointed with NAD’s decision regarding this claim” and will appeal NAD’s decision to NARB.

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.