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

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014 (8:00 am) - Score 1,254
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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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9 Responses
  1. Avatar DanielM

    I might get in contact with ASA about ee calling there network 4G which it isnt either.

    • I don’t think it would work since Ofcom and the Government also called it 4G and a lot of EE’s kit is already LTE-A capable anyway, although they haven’t upgraded it yet.

  2. Avatar Matthew Williams

    Clearly they didn’t talk to 3GPP this is stupid as hell DC-HSDPA can get give comparable speeds to a 4G network in terms of download in terms of upload there is a difference,

    • Avatar DTMark

      For here, 3G can compare on the downstream, the upstream is a long way off, though.

      Three 3G – range 12 to 21 Meg down, 2 to 4 Meg up, typically around 16Meg down 2.5Meg up **

      EE 4G – range 19 to 25 Meg down, 12 to 21 Meg up, typically around 20Meg down *20 Meg up*

      ** until the transmitter broke and they didn’t fix it. Bye Three.

    • Avatar Matthew Williams

      I agree upload is different but if we really going mention upload you could easily say Virgin Media offers insufficient Fibre as the upload speeds are way below BT.

    • Avatar DanielM

      3G (hsdpa+ networks) can give over 11Mbps upload too remember. with vodafone i have personally had over 6Mbps upload

    • Avatar DTMark

      “the upload speeds are way below BT”

      Cable’s Achilles Heel is the upstream.

      But that said the 120 Meg down package has 12 Meg up which I suspect is probably more than BT’s equivalent FTTC is capable of at most locations..?

    • Avatar Matthew Williams

      Oh I know the reason Virgins media’s upload is slower and not so sure about general FTTC upload. I actually meant the base product of 30MB they give you 2MB upload base FTTC product gives you a lot more.

  3. Avatar Vince

    This is the same EE that advertises superfast 4GEE to people who live nowhere near any 4G service area right?

    As someone who uses 3, I can confirm it delivers “superfast” “ultrafast” and whatever else you want to call it, quite happily every day, and it is both typically faster than EE whatever mode they’re in, and almost always available unlike EE.

    Sad that the ASA allow that but haven’t thought that advertising 4G contracts to people unlikely to benefit is “OK”

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