T-Mobile can’t advertise ‘most reliable’ 5G, says NAD

T-Mobile might claim to have the “most reliable” 5G network based on third-party testing, but the National Advertising Division (NAD) ruled that it cannot advertise the results from umlaut about offering the “most reliable 5G.” T-Mobile is appealing the decision. 

The issue came to NAD’s attention after AT&T challenged claims made by T-Mobile in two TV commercials and in internet advertising. Wireless carriers often challenge one another’s advertising claims and bring them to the attention of NAD, which then makes recommendations.   

In this situation, T-Mobile relied on the results of an audit report conducted by umlaut. The umlaut report uses crowdsourced data collected from mobile phones by software that operates in the background of apps downloaded from the Google Play app store.

NAD noted that umlaut testing measures two coverage metrics and one speed metric. “While NAD agreed that speed and coverage are important to consider when talking about 5G network reliability, speed and coverage alone cannot support a reliability claim,” the NAD concluded.

T-Mobile argued that NAD precedent allows wireless carriers to advertise accolades based on legitimate third-party testing so long as the advertising discloses the basis for the accolade, according to NAD. That sounds legit, right? So long as the information is properly attributed, the claim could be made.

However, “while NAD has permitted wireless providers to advertise third-party awards for network performance as long as they are properly qualified, it does not do so without further inquiry. NAD carefully reviews the methodology for any third-party awards to ensure there is a reasonable basis for the underlying claim,” NAD stated in its decision.

RELATED: T-Mobile wins some in 5G ad spat with Verizon

Interestingly, it appears one of the things that T-Mobile often points out about its competitors – their reliance on 4G networks, such is the case with dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) that allows AT&T and Verizon to claim nationwide 5G coverage – is what triggered, in part, AT&T’s complaint here.

AT&T argued that umlaut’s testing did not evaluate “an appropriate set of metrics for assessing 5G network reliability,” according to the NAD decision. In fact, AT&T argued that RootMetrics has a better methodology for measuring true reliability and is more representative of what users experience on a given day.

In recent years, wireless carriers have argued about the validity of various third-party testing firms, even while they use them in their marketing materials. Of course, which firms’ results are used depends on who comes out on top.

According to NAD, T-Mobile maintained that umlaut’s metrics are appropriate, with the carrier explaining that they’re based on the way 5G currently operates; 5G is not designed to be a replacement for 4G but rather to deliver improved performance beyond 4G in situations where consumers are placing heavier demands on a carrier’s network.

“Although T-Mobile argued that many consumers toggle between 4G and 5G and umlaut's testing methodology represents how many consumers currently use 5G as a supplement to 4G, NAD determined that non-5G data cannot be used to support a claim about a 5G network,” the advertising watchdog explained in a press release.

NAD also referenced a case where Verizon relied on RootMetrics data to make a claim about its 4G LTE reliability. In that case, Verizon relied on RootMetrics data that consisted of testing on both 4G and 4G LTE to support a claim that Verizon has “the nation’s … most reliable 4G LTE network.” In that situation, NAD determined that the RootMetrics data was insufficient because although some of the testing was on 4G LTE, not all data was on 4G LTE; therefore, “it was not sufficient support for a most reliable 4G LTE claim.”

According to NAD, “a claim specifically directed at the reliability of a 5G network should be based solely on data obtained on 5G networks.”

T-Mobile informed NAD that it planned to appeal NAD’s decision. Such appeals are made to the BBB National Programs' National Advertising Review Board (NARB).