T-Mobile again advised to stop 5G reliability claims, can keep touting coverage

In what was a partially successful appeal, T-Mobile has been advised by a national advertising review board panel to stop claiming that its 5G service is more reliable than competitors’, but doesn’t have to mention speed when talking up its superior coverage.   

T-Mobile appealed an August decision by the National Advertising Division (NAD) over the claims, which were challenged by Verizon, and the operator said it will comply with NARB’s recommendations.

NARB is the appellate advertising law body of BBB National programs. Like NAD in August, the panel determined T-Mobile couldn’t support the message that its low-band 5G service is more reliable than 4G, including its own network as well as competitors.

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

T-Mobile’s using 600 MHz spectrum for nationwide 5G coverage, and the disputed advertising focused on the advantage of those low-band signals over high-band millimeter wave (mmWave) like Verizon primarily used at the time. T-Mobile’s low-band 5G, which it calls ‘Extended Range 5G’ now covers 270 million people over 1.4 square miles.

Since the summer T-Mobile turned on mid-band 2.5 GHz spectrum for 5G at thousands of cell sites. Verizon has rolled out 5G Nationwide using dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) technology to share existing 4G LTE spectrum resources with 5G NR. Last week Verizon expanded its nationwide 5G service to reach 230 million people, marking access for an additional 24 million customers since the October launch.

T-Mobile's disputed message of superior reliability over 4G couldn’t be supported, NARB concluded, “as T-Mobile’s 5G network does not equal or surpass its own 4G coverage or that of competitors." According to the panel, more insight about network performance beyond coverage should be considered for the claim that no 5G network is more reliable than T-Mobile’s, but the operator “offered no such support for its 5G network reliability claims, parity or otherwise,” so NARB recommended discontinuing it.

RELATED: Verizon vs. T-Mobile: NAD issues mixed ruling on advertising claims

To T-Mobile’s benefit, NARB deviated from one aspect of NAD’s decision, finding that claims about its commanding 5G coverage over peers – which NAD found generally to be true – didn’t imply overall network superiority. Meaning that when T-Mobile touts better 5G coverage than its competitors, it doesn’t have to disclose other significant differences between its own network and rivals’, such as speed.

In an advertiser’s statement T-Mobile said that it “appreciates that the panel agreed that T-Mobile can continue to advertise its superior 5G coverage without qualification.”

Low-band 5G networks like T-Mobile’s were initially getting 4G-like speeds, while mmWave has shown significantly faster performance albeit with limited reach. However, with work to bolster its 5G network with key 2.5 GHz spectrum, T-Mobile has said speeds are increasing as well and that its mid-band 5G service can deliver downloads around 300 Mbps and peak speeds up to 1 Gbps.

RELATED: T-Mobile’s Ray predicts 5G claims will haunt rivals

Verizon’s mmWave Ultra Wideband 5G has shown peak download of 4 Gbps on a live network. DSS though has resulted in some dings to performance to its 5G Nationwide service, according to testing by SRG. While Verizon stands behind DSS technology, the carrier has acknowledged the experience is more akin to 4G LTE.

NARB upholds other 5G recommendations

T-Mobile was unsuccessful in appealing two other NAD recommendations, including to discontinue messages that its 5G coverage can generally be found in what are traditionally hard-to-reach locations.

NARB said that T-Mobile didn’t provide any evidence to show how often its 5G network is available in places like cellars, parking garages or elevators. Therefore, it wants the operator to stop advertising claims that imply its 5G service is generally available in places that historically have poor cellular coverage, or at least clearly disclose what a typical T-Mobile 5G performance is like in those areas.

RELATED: T-Mobile’s Ray: It’s game on – and btw, voice on 5G is coming

Finally, the review panel recommended T-Mobile stop claims about the limited reach of Verizon’s 5G Ultra Wideband service with a visual comparing it to the space taken up by a typical bus bench, which was featured in a video with Bill Nye.

In the video, Nye states that “Other carriers have 5G signals that drop if you move two feet,” which NARB said, alongside the visual, sent a misleading message about the scope of Verizon’s 5G UWB service.

RELATED: Verizon exec views dominant 4G LTE position as 5G advantage

Verizon and T-Mobile have been going at it in knocking each other’s 5G shortcomings, while boasting their own respective strategies, and advertising challenges aren't uncommon. 

Verizon itself this year was told by NAD to discontinue or modify some 5G claims, including related to coverage, but could keep messages related to “speeds 10x faster” than T-Mobile’s. T-Mobile, meanwhile, while told to tone down claims that made network benefits from its merger with Sprint seem imminent.