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ASA Ban Three UK Ads for Misleading Ultrafast 3.9G Mobile Broadband Claim

Wednesday, Jan 22nd, 2014 (8:00 am) - Score 1,314
three-uk-mobile-broadband

It’s surprising this hasn’t happened sooner. The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has, following a complaint by EE, banned several adverts for Three UK after they “misleadingly” claimed to offer an “Ultrafast” connection using their “3.9G” (DC-HSDPA) Mobile Broadband network.

The use of such terminology (note: 3.9G is still fundamentally a 3G network), which is something that we’ve raised concerns about before, is clearly designed to make consumers think that Three UK’s 3G network was much closer to 4G (LTE) performance than it usually is. Plus the gap will only get wider as 4G advances through LTE-Advanced technology.

So it’s not surprising to find that the ASA had a problem after EE, which at the time was the only operator with a 4G network, decided to complain about a press, poster and two website promotions on Three UK’s own service that all made of references to terms like “Ultrafast network” and “3.9G“.

Three UK countered that the term “3.9G” was not being used in the ads as an official technological term, but was being used to describe their own DC-HSDPA network that, in the USA, is apparently also known incorrectly as 4G. Similarly it said that “3.9G” was intended to communicate that their network’s technology was “far superior” to 3G (note: DC-HSDPA is still a part of the 3G branch). But the ASA wasn’t having any of it.

ASA Ruling (REF: A13-235384)

Three had provided information on the differences between DC-HSDPA and 4G LTE technology. However, the document was largely theoretical, and did not contain evidence of the actual measurable speeds offered by Three’s network and how this compared to typical 3G and 4G speeds. We had not seen evidence to demonstrate that Three’s 3G DC-HSDPA network technology and speeds were very close to that of 4G, and superior to those offered by 3G technology in general and we therefore concluded that the claim “3.9G” was misleading.

The ad qualified the claim with the statement “our Ultrafast network is built to give you all-you-can-eat-data” but we had not seen any evidence that the offering of all-you-can-eat data plans by Three was the result of technological capabilities of their network beyond those of Everything Everywhere. We also considered the unclear basis for the claim meant that it was not verifiable by consumers. We concluded the claim “Our Ultrafast network is built for more” was misleading and had not been substantiated.

The ASA ultimately banned the adverts and warned Three UK to ensure that their claims “did not mislead” and that any future statements of a similar sort could be properly supported by evidence as part of a viable comparison. Now if you want to get really picky then Three UK could have complained last year that EE’s first generation LTE network wasn’t 4G either (here), although that boat has now been missed because EE are deploying true 4G compliant LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) kit for future upgrades to 300Mbps and beyond.

It’s worth pointing out that Three UK, much like O2 and Vodafone, have since started rolling out their own 4G network. Luckily they haven’t called it 4.9G yet or indeed HyperSuperDuperMegaFast. At least none of this is as bad as 6G Internet (here), which deserves an ASA moan from somebody.

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Mark-Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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