ASA bans Three 'Real 5G' ad

Three 5G
(Image credit: Future/Mike Moore)

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a Three advertising campaign that implied that only it could offer customers ‘real 5G’ network services.

Last year, the mobile operator published a tweet and a newspaper wraparound stating “if it’s not Three, it’s not real 5G.”

Three’s claim centres on the fact that it has more spectrum than its rivals, including a 100MHz contiguous block. This block includes 3.4GHz airwaves won at auction and through the acquisition of UK Broadband, which operated the Relish FWA services.

Three 'real 5G'

The 100MHz block was created through a spectrum licence variation awarded by regulator Ofcom late last year – a controversial move which rivals said gave Three an unfair advantage. Having adjacent spectrum is desirable because it can improve capacity and cost-efficiencies.

However, EE, Vodafone, an independent consultant and three members of the public challenged the claim. They argued it implied other networks weren’t offering real 5G services.

In its defence, Three argued its spectrum holdings and cloud-based core infrastructure meant it would offer a superior service. In an interview with TechRadar Pro last year, outgoing Three CEO Dave Dyson said the claims were a combination of tongue-in-cheek bravado and fact.

“If you look at International Telecommunications Union (ITU) standards, they say to get a genuine 5G experience you need a minimum of 100MHz spectrum,” he said. “That’s part of the fact.

“Of course EE and Vodafone have launched [5G services] but the reality is that, whether 100MHz is the standard or not, our 5G service uses double the spectrum and in practice that means double the capacity.”

The ASA acknowledged the spectrum argument but ruled that the limited rollout of 5G at the time the advert was published, coupled with limited availability of devices, meant there was unlikely to be any capacity issues that would impact end user experience.

 “Given that, we considered Three's 5G service was not, at that time, likely to be so significantly better than other 5G services as to render them not "real" 5G, or such that there was little value in obtaining those services.”

One thing the ruling did not mention was that at the time, Three’s 5G network was limited to Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) broadband . The operator has since launched 5G mobile data services.

The advert must not appear in its current form. Three has been contacted for comment.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.