Only days after Verizon launched a slower “5G Nationwide” network to fill the massive coverage gaps in its faster but hard-to-find “5G Ultra Wideband” service, an industry watchdog told the carrier to change recent ads that imply users can expect typical high band speeds across the United States. The move comes only months after watchdog group BBB National Programs’ National Advertising Division (NAD) first called Verizon out for misleading customers about its 5G coverage and demanded the carrier disclose the availability limitations of its service.
Misleading marketing has cast a shadow over 5G cellular launches in the U.S., with carriers rushing out services that barely deliver on the standard’s transformative potential. Verizon’s Ultra Wideband (UWB) service is extremely fast but generally hard to access, even when it’s supposedly available in a “5G city,” while AT&T originally marketed its similar 5G+ service solely to enterprises due to its limited availability. Both carriers and rival T-Mobile now rely on secondary “low band 5G” networks to blanket the U.S. with a considerably slower form of 5G coverage while promising faster speeds in select locations. As a result, Verizon’s 5G performance is extremely uneven from city block to city block, ranging from 4G-like in most places to tens of times faster in very specific locations.
Prompted by a challenge from T-Mobile, the NAD found that while Verizon fairly claimed its UWB service was 10 times faster than T-Mobile’s 5G, its advertising needs to either “convey a message about what consumers can typically expect to achieve network-wide” or “modify its demonstrations to depict the typical network speeds.” The NAD also said Verizon agreed to permanently discontinue “5G Built Right for Firefighters” and “5G Built Right for First Responders” ads, which suggested the Ultra Wideband network would perform well indoors — a known issue with the network’s millimeter wave technology that will likely be remedied in the future.
Those weren’t the only problems with Verizon’s ads, the NAD said: Verizon also claimed 5G was faster than home internet connections, which requires quantification, and said its service meant customers didn’t have to “worry about lag,” which wasn’t supported by evidence. Moreover, Verizon suggested its typical 4G download speed was over 120Mbps, compared with a typical T-Mobile 5G speed of 20Mbps, numbers that were apparently reached with inconsistent benchmarks.
As self-regulating bodies for the advertising industry, the NAD and its appellate Review Board NARB have recently publicized advertising issues with all three of the major U.S. carriers, including AT&T’s misleading “5G Evolution” rebranding of 4G services and claims by T-Mobile regarding the reliability and coverage of its networks. Issues with Verizon have generally focused on the carrier’s attempts to overstate the availability of high-speed service.
Verizon has agreed to comply with the NAD’s findings and could include either information about typical 5G networkwide speeds or focus on specific city-to-city 5G speed comparisons without suggesting those speeds are typical across its entire network. The agreement is particularly significant given that Verizon CEO Hans Vestberg appeared this week at Apple’s 5G iPhone 12-focused virtual media event, promising even faster 4Gbps download speeds that most users are highly unlikely to see on the carrier’s network.