Orange rapped over 3G network ad claims

The ASA has ordered Orange to pull an ad in which the operator claimed to have the largest mobile broadband network in the UK, saying it was 'likely to mislead'

Orange has been ordered by the Advertising Standards Authority to pull an ad that claimed its 3G network had better reach than rivals, after operator 3 challenged that claim.

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said on Wednesday that it has upheld a complaint from 3 about the ad for Orange mobile broadband services, which appeared in regional publications. Headlined 'Top Dongle', the ad said the "Orange 3G network covers more people in the UK than any other operator".

"We considered that the claim... was ambiguous in the context of a mobile broadband service because it did not make clear whether it was referring to Orange covering more people in the places where they lived than any other operator (population coverage), or more people in the UK, wherever they might be using their 3G mobile device (geographical coverage)," the ASA said in a statement.

In its complaint, 3 said that it believed it had the largest 3G network in the UK. Orange responded by telling the ASA that its statistics dealt with population coverage and were taken from the most recently published figures available from each of the 3G providers. It also used "a marriage of in-house tools and recognised public domain population to location information", it told the ASA. Orange's figures put its reach at 93.39 percent of the UK population, while 3 was at 91 percent.

According to the ASA, Orange failed to show that the population coverage data it had supplied for competing networks was directly comparable to its own. In addition, Ofcom-issued geographical coverage maps of the major mobile operators did not substantiate claims that Orange has the widest UK coverage, it said.

As Orange could not show that the data it provided for competing 3G networks were based on the same methods it used for its own figures, the operator's claim for its service could not be proven, the advertising watchdog said. As a result, the ad was likely to mislead.

"Orange's claims in its advertising to have the UK's biggest 3G network were completely unsubstantiated and misleading for consumers," 3's director of sales and marketing Marc Allera said in a statement responding to the ruling. "Right now, consumers struggle to get a consistent picture of how 3G networks compare when it comes to coverage. It is in the interest of consumers for there to be a definitive view on 3G network coverage."

Orange said that it believed the ad had been fair, as it was based on publicly available information from its rivals.

"While we accept the ASA's ruling, we feel this decision effectively gags us — and the rest of the industry — from talking about our networks, as according to the ASA, as our claims are not 'directly comparable'," the company said.

"What's of most frustration is the company who raised the complaint, 3, have themselves started to use the same claim that we have been banned from using — the biggest 3G network by population. This is absurd and makes a mockery of the ASA's ruling," it added.