Watchdog slaps down Three's claims to be building the UK's 'fastest 5G network' – again

Company can't seem to help running its mouth, despite ASA's ruling last year


The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has warned mobile network Three not to repeat claims that it is "building the UK's fastest 5G network" and that its network represents "real 5G" – after pulling the company up on the same claims a year ago.

A complaint was brought by rival network Vodafone UK against Hutchison 3G UK, which trades as Three, after the company took umbrage at TV ad claims that Three was creating Britain's speediest next generation network and that punters should "join the future on Three, it's real 5G."

Vodafone argued against the claims, stating they were misleading and could not be substantiated – while Three made technical arguments in an apparent effort to blind the ASA with science.

In its response to the ASA's investigation, Three claimed that it was indeed building the UK's fastest 5G network thanks to its "superior 5G spectrum holdings" of 100MHz contiguous radio-frequency spectrum, its position as the only network to operate a "cloud core" which boosts throughput "because cloud-based networks were more efficient and reliable than legacy solutions," and that it was able to offer pure-5G data sessions where competitors may rely on mixing 4G and 5G.

Clearcast, the advertising provider which ran Three's adverts, said it had discussed potential issues with the company – and was the reason why the advertising was accompanied by a small on-screen message, not read aloud, warning that the network offers "limited coverage."

The ASA, after conferring with communications regulator Ofcom, disagreed with Three's arguments. "[Ofcom] said that while all other things being equal Three might be able to offer higher peak speeds than other operators, they would be achievable only in certain ideal conditions and would rarely be experienced by consumers everywhere in a mature 5G network."

It's not the first time the ASA has rapped Three for substantially the same claims. A ruling from March 2020, related to advertising carried in the national press and over social media in August the year before, told the company not to repeat near-identical advertising which claimed that "if it's not Three, it's not real 5G" and that the company was "building the UK’s fastest 5G network."

Sadly for Three's competitors in the market, the ASA is a self-regulating organisation founded by the advertising industry itself – a paper tiger with no ability to set or enforce legislation nor to issue fines or other sanctions, bar its Code of Advertising Practice (CAP) Compliance Team suggesting that advertisers not carry adverts the organisation has ruled against.

Although the ASA found against Three in its ruling last year, it simply told the company "the ads must not appear again" and that it needed to "ensure future ads did not mislead" – requests Three clearly failed to take to heart.

"We told Hutchinson 3G UK Ltd t/a Three to ensure future ads did not mislead," the ASA announced in its latest ruling against the company, "for example, by making claims which suggested that the 5G service offered by competitors would not be as fast as theirs without sufficient evidence, or implying that their competitors did not offer 'real' 5G."

This can be compared with the very similar demand from the ASA's March 2020 ruling: "We told Hutchison 3G UK Ltd t/a Three to ensure future ads did not mislead by, for example, using wording which suggested that the service offered by competitors did not provide the significantly faster speeds that 5G was expected to provide."

Neither the ASA, Three, nor Vodafone responded to requests for further comment in time for publication. ®

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