Published: 30 October, 2008
Disputes are raging over cellcos' mobile broadband claims in the UK, with Vodafone the latest to come under fire. A series of complaints to the Advertising Standards Authority - which are echoed in other European countries - highlight how the operators currently see mobile broadband as their most important source of new revenue, customers and competitive edge, and how they are seeking to position their dongle and laptop services as competitive with wireline options, to speed the flight from wired carriers.
T-Mobile was hit with an adverse ruling by the ASA last week, over its claims that its HSPA service was interchangeable with a home broadband wireline connection, which the authority judged to be misleading. Now T-Mobile has filed complaints in turn against Vodafone - backed up by 3, which has been the UK trailblazer for dongle services - for adverts claiming the "fastest, most reliable mobile broadband in the galaxy" for only £15 a month. They also said Vodafone's HSPA service was "as quick as most home broadband".
The ASA agreed with the objections of T-Mobile and 3, which said the words "fastest" and "most reliable" were misleading. The ads must not appear in their current form and Vodafone was told to makes it claims clearer.
Vodafone said the ruling does not question the "factual validity" of the "fastest and most reliable" claims, which it added was based on a study commissioned from wireless engineering company LCC. However it said it would follow ASA recommendations to support claims with further qualification, to enable readers to understand the full basis of the claims.
Vodafone said the LCC tests found that its service was up to 77% faster than rivals' networks when downloading a 2Mb file, with average speed of 13.54 seconds, compared to 21.44 for 3, 23.99 for Orange, 20.17 for O2 and 16.15 for T-Mobile.
Whatever the rights and wrongs of advertising wording, the marketing battle in this area will only gain pace as pressurized operators fight for the additional, high value data revenues that mobile broadband attracts. As the ASA rulings indicate, it is important that their eagerness for the new revenue stream does not result in confusion and disappointed expectations for consumers.