Verizon told to stop making misleading 5G claims by ads watchdog

Verizon has been told to stop making misleading claims about the speed and coverage of its 5G network in its ads, the National Advertising Division (NAD) has announced. The organization, which runs the ad industry’s self-regulatory system and is part of BBB National Programs, took issue with two TV ads, in particular, which it said suggest that Verizon’s 5G service is widely available across the country and that customers can get expect speeds as fast as “2 gigs.” Verizon said it will comply with the NAD’s recommendations, which are to stop making these claims.

The issue is Verizon’s widespread use of mmWave 5G, a technology that offers very fast speeds, but the signals have a limited range and are easily blocked. You can see it clearly in Verizon’s coverage maps, which show how the network is concentrated in streets and sidewalks. So while the company’s network is available in 35 cities in the US, that doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to get a decent 5G signal everywhere in these cities.

The NAD says that this is a problem when Verizon’s ads subsequently claimed that “people from midtown Manhattan to downtown Denver can experience what your 5G can deliver.” The organization said that claims like these falsely imply that its 5G service is “broadly available nationally” when it notes that even Verizon “does not dispute that its current 5G service is limited.”

The report also took issue with the kinds of speeds Verizon cites during its ads, which include getting “2 Gigs” in LA or “1.7 Gigs” in Houston. The NAD says that there’s not enough evidence that customers will actually get these kinds of speeds in normal use and that Verizon’s disclosure about the limitations of its network isn’t clear enough to its customers.

“Verizon should ensure that its advertising clearly and conspicuously communicates to consumers the relevant, material limitations of its current network,” the NAD said.

Although it has agreed to comply with the NAD’s recommendations and says it is “committed to the self-regulatory process,” Verizon said it does not agree with every part of the organization’s decision. A representative from the company was not immediately available to respond to The Verge’s questions about which aspects it disagrees with, in particular. A Verizon spokesperson told Ars Technica that the ads in question “stopped running months ago.” But, as Ars notes, the decision is likely to impact future ads produced by the company.

The challenge to Verizon’s ads came from AT&T, whose own 5G claims have faced their fair share of criticism. Last year, the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) recommended that the company stop using its “5G Evolution” branding for its 4G networks because it said the claims were likely to — surprise, surprise — mislead customers into thinking they were actually getting 5G. (They’re not.) AT&T agreed to stop using them for its advertising and marketing campaigns, but it said it wouldn’t remove the “5G E” logo from smartphones.