NAD Finds T-Mobile’s Crowdsourced Data Can Serve as Support for Certain Advertising Claims; Recommends Company Discontinue One TV Commercial

New York, NY –  June  12,  2015  – The National Advertising Division has determined that T-Mobile USA, Inc., can support certain express claims about its network and support through crowdsourced data the implied claim that the company’s customers experience more consistent LTE speeds than customers of competing providers. NAD recommended, however, that T-Mobile modify certain claims, discontinue “Data Rush Hour,” a television commercial set in a subway, and discontinue use of a data and coverage map that NAD found to be potentially confusing to consumers.

NAD is an investigative unit of the advertising industry’s system of self-regulation. It is administered by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.

Verizon Wireless challenged claims made by T-Mobile in television, print, in-store, Internet banner and website advertisements.

Express claims at issue included

  • “Designed Data Strong”
  • “T-Mobile Network has MORE Data Capacity”
  • “T-Mobile Network has more data capacity per customer than Verizon and AT&T”
  • “It’s a network that puts data where you need it most, a network designed data strong.”
  • “That’s why we designed our network differently, with cell towers closer together.”

NAD also considered whether the advertising implied that T-Mobile’s network offered faster data speeds or faster upload speeds, particularly in crowded indoor and outdoor venues and during peak usage times, than Verizon Wireless.

The advertising review by NAD included three national television commercials that depicted individuals using their cell phones in crowded setting to upload or download images, videos or other data.  Each commercial began with a line urging consumers not to let crowds impact their data usage, using phrases that included, “Don’t let a packed house … jam your data,” “Don’t let a capacity crowd … shut out your data,” and “Data rush hour … without a traffic jam.”  In each commercial the words “T-Mobile Network MORE Data Capacity” appeared onscreen as a voiceover stated, “T-Mobile’s network has more data capacity per customer than Verizon and AT&T.”  A disclosure, in small print at the bottom of the screen reads, “Capacity claim basis: congestion experienced; per customer.”

The challenger argued that T-Mobile’s “more data capacity” claim conveys the message that T-Mobile has more overall data capacity than Verizon’s network, as opposed to available capacity.

T-Mobile argued that it delivers faster 4G LTE data speeds on a more consistent basis because it built its network “data strong” and does have more capacity per customer than its competitors.  T-Mobile also explained that it had modified its advertising prior to the challenge to indicate that T-Mobile has more capacity per customer than AT&T and Verizon.

NAD was satisfied that the express claim that T-Mobile has “More Data Capacity Per Customer” was supported and did not reasonably convey a misleading message about total data capacity in the context in which it was conveyed and when used with necessary  audio or visual disclosures that the that the claim is based on having more per customer capacity.

NAD also determined that the claim conveyed an implied message that customers on T-Mobile’s network are less likely to experience slow speeds and that T-Mobile had provided a reasonable basis for this implied claim.  NAD recommended, however, T-Mobile expressly modify the “More Data Capacity Per Customer” claims to make clear that it is users on its LTE network who will experience the implied superior performance claimed.

As support for claims that T-Mobile customers experience more consistent speeds, T-Mobile relied upon crowdsourced data, including data from Ookla’s “SpeedTest” application, as well as additional crowd-source data from OpenSignal.

Ookla’s “Speedtest” is an application which consumers download on their mobile devices and can run the application to measure upload and download speeds. OpenSignal collects information on mobile user experience using an application downloaded to consumers’ smartphones.

Ookla’s Speedtest data demonstrated that, when comparing LTE networks,  nearly 80 percent of T-Mobile’s customers experienced data download and upload speeds consistent with LTE service (greater than 5 Mbps for download and 2 Mbps for upload), higher than any other network.    More than 80 percent of T-Mobile customers experienced upload speeds consistent with LTE service (greater than 2 Mbps), a higher percentage than any other network.

Unlike Ookla, OpenSignal tests speeds in the background while consumers are using their mobile devices, to measure data success rates on mobile networks in circumstances in which consumers would experience the networks.  The OpenSignal Report on which T-Mobile relied included data from 59,020 users and a total of 8,272,174 data points.   OpenSignal’s report demonstrated that customers on T-Mobile’s LTE network are less likely to experience download speeds below 5 Mbps than users on competitor networks.

NAD noted in its decision that consumer-generated speed test results are increasingly important to assess speeds consumers are actually experiencing on their mobile devices. NAD further noted that it was not making a determination as to whether Ookla’s SpeedTest application could provide support for an overall comparative superiority speed claim.

NAD determined that T-Mobile had supported the claim that its network is “Designed Data Strong” but recommended that T-Mobile expressly qualify this claim as limited to performance on T-Mobile’s LTE network.

NAD also recommended that  T-Mobile discontinue one of the three commercials – “Data Rush Hour” – along with its use of a challenged three-dimensional map featuring both coverage and data usage.

NAD noted that in the advertising campaign at issue, the three-dimensional map is viewed from a perspective which makes the southern half of the United States more prominent onscreen, while the northern portion of the United States is less visible.  The three-dimensional view of the map focused the viewer on areas of the country where T-Mobile has more coverage and obscured areas where the company has no coverage. NAD found that a reasonable consumer takeaway from the map was that T-Mobile’s coverage is broader than it is.

T-Mobile, in its advertiser’s statement, said that as an “active supporter of the self-regulatory process, T-Mobile will take NAD’s recommendations into consideration in its future advertising for its data strong network.”