T-Mobile, Virgin broadband ads fall foul of watchdog

The Advertising Standards Authority has chided T-Mobile over a mobile-broadband ad, and Virgin Media for claims over the speed of its fibre-optic service

The Advertising Standards Authority has taken issue with claims that mobile broadband is interchangeable with its fixed-line, 'home' equivalent.

The Advertising Standards Authority's (ASA's) adjudication follows a complaint from a member of the public over a T-Mobile flyer that stated: "All the benefits of home broadband, on the move. No wires, no waiting, no worries". The ASA said the flyer may mislead consumers into thinking mobile broadband would deliver the same speed and quality as traditional home broadband.

T-Mobile, however, said the leaflets referred to the capacities of mobile broadband, not its speed, and "maintained that they did not make any claim that implied a direct technical comparison to fixed-line broadband", according to the ASA.

The ASA, however, disagreed with T-Mobile.

"We understood that mobile broadband was unlikely to offer speeds comparable with those of a high-speed, fixed-line service and that, due to the technology's reliance on obtaining a signal from mobile-telephone networks, it could not guarantee the same continuity of service," the ad watchdog said in its adjudication.

"In particular, we were concerned that activities such as streaming, downloading and online gaming were unlikely to be available to mobile-broadband users to the same standard as to fixed-line broadband users," the ASA added.

Under the ASA's ruling, T-Mobile can't run the same ad in the future and must "avoid the implication that their mobile-broadband service was of a comparable standard to fixed-line broadband".

Virgin Media also fell foul of the ASA this week over claims in an advert that its 20Mbps fibre-optic service is the UK's fastest, attracting complaints from members of the public and from Sky.

The objections centred around whether the 'fastest' claim could be substantiated in light of other providers offering up to 24Mbps services, and whether the data used by Virgin to back up its claim was wide-ranging enough.

On the former point, Virgin said it measured throughputs — which it said are a truer indicator of real-world speed — rather than maximum theoretical download speeds. On the latter point, Virgin noted that the data used in the ad, from Epitiro, covered ISPs with 90 percent market share of UK broadband between them, and Virgin added that it had several other sources, including benchmarks from Broadband Expert, that showed it to be the fastest.

The ASA, however, upheld the complaints, saying in its adjudication: "We considered, however, that readers would be used to definitions of broadband speed in terms of download speeds and were, therefore, likely to understand the claim 'fastest' as an absolute claim that implied it was not possible to obtain a broadband connection in the UK that permitted a faster maximum download speed than Virgin's service."

The watchdog added: "Because we understood that it was possible in certain instances for some customers, in optimum conditions, to obtain a faster maximum broadband download speed than Virgin's 20Mb service, we concluded that such an absolute claim was misleading."

The ASA also concluded that, because the Epitiro data did not cover all ISPs and did not "evaluate all broadband providers' customer bases in a sufficiently random and significant way", it couldn't be used for comparative speed claims.

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