Verizon Has To Walk Back Bogus 5G Coverage Claims
from the make-believe dept
We’ve talked a lot about how while fifth-generation (5G) wireless is a good thing (in that faster, more reliable networks are always good), it’s been comically over-hyped by cellular carriers that have taken every opportunity to misrepresent what the technology is capable of, the kind of real world speeds users will actually see, and where the technology is actually available.
If you listen to Verizon’s 5G ads, you’d think the technology was already available nearly everywhere. Verizon ads routinely proclaim that “People from midtown Manhattan to downtown Denver can experience what your 5G can deliver,” and usually feature thrilled consumers from Omaha to Los Angeles basked in ultra-fast wireless glory.
Reality is… something different. One recent study by OpenSignal found that users in the real world are able to obtain a Verizon 5G signal about 0.4% of the time, largely because the millimeter wave spectrum Verizon is using doesn’t provide very good range, and can’t penetrate buildings particularly well. Even in the places that Verizon advertises as having widespread coverage — like sports stadiums — routinely see patchy availability.
As such, after fielding complaints from AT&T (which has routinely made its own false claims about 5G), the National Advertising Division (NAD)–the investigative arm of a nonprofit dubbed the BBB National Programs–has told Verizon to stop misleading consumers as to where 5G is actually available:
“…the challenged advertising consists of shifting images of Verizon engineers describing the exceptional speed and capacity of Verizon?s 5G network while standing in geographically diverse cities throughout the UnitedStates, with several running real-time speed tests on their phones.& NAD determined that while the challenged advertising communicates the accurate message that Verizon is building its 5G network, the commercials simultaneously tout the current performance of the network, ultimately conveying the net impression that Verizon?s ?ultrafast? 5G network is widely available in cities across the country and, where it has already been launched, is broadly and readily accessible to consumers.”
Carriers have always been full of shit when it comes to wireless data availability maps, but 5G has managed to take things to the next level as carriers attempt to spike lagging smartphone sales and justify some of the highest prices for mobile data in the developed world. That has included not only declaring a 5G city “launched” when just a handful of blocks can get service (something you’ll often see in fiber deployment), but actually using fake phone icons to pretend that existing 4G networks are actually 5G. Carriers have also lobbied against government efforts to improve 5G availability mapping.
The problem of course is that NAD tends to be more decorative than substantive protection against false industry claims. As a self-regulatory apparatus, the organization is used by industry as a form of wrist slap theater to justify regulatory apathy at the FCC and FTC. Most penalties for false advertising are negligible, and by the time these complaints wind their way through the dispute process, the ads in question have often already had their intended impact. So while Verizon has agreed to pull these latest ads, there’s nothing stopping them from doing it all over again a few months down the road with a few tweaks, starting the cycle all over again.
And undaunted, carriers continue to misrepresent 5G as a widely available communications revolution. In reality, studies have indicated that U.S. 5G, while certainly fast, pales in comparison to overseas networks — in large part because we’ve failed to make mid-band spectrum (much of it held by the government) available for widespread public use. By over-hyping what the tech can do and where it’s available (without seriously competing on price in the face of growing sector consolidation), the industry is obliviously training consumers to associate 5G with disappointment.