Summary of Council decision:
Two issues were investigated, both of which were Upheld.
A national press ad and claims on the BT website, seen on 19 May 2018:
a. The press ad included the claim "UK's most powerful Wi-Fi vs. major broadband providers" as a feature of the Infinity broadband package. The claim also appeared as a feature of the Unlimited Infinity package. The ad featured an image of the BT Smarthub.
b. The BT website featured the headline claim "BT Business Smart Hub. The UK's most powerful business wi-fi signal vs. major broadband providers*". Further text stated "*Better than all other major UK business broadband providers, giving you the strongest signal furthest from the hub. Tests prove it".
Virgin Media challenged whether the following claims were misleading and could be substantiated:
1. "UK's most powerful Wi-Fi vs. major broadband providers" in (a) for the BT Smart Hub; and
2. "UK's most powerful business wi-fi signal vs. major broadband providers" in ad (b) for the BT Business Smart Hub.
1. British Telecommunications plc t/a BT said they had carried out additional testing to address the concerns raised in a previous ASA investigation about the claim “UK’s most powerful Wi-Fi”. The new testing sought to prove that their router still provided the best performance at a far distance from the router even in the presence of Wi-Fi and non-Wi-Fi interference, and that the variations in the implementation of standard solutions did not affect the ranking order of the results in an environment where both Wi-Fi and non-Wi-Fi interference was present.
BT referred to their published verifiability document to show how the new testing was conducted. In response to the previous ASA ruling, their new testing compared the performance of routers with high levels of interference. The interference types consisted of neighbouring Wi-Fi networks, Wi-Fi co-channel interference, Wi-Fi adjacent channel interference and Bluetooth. They explained that their new testing was only conducted on a 2.4GHz signal rather than a 5GHz signal because it was the 2.4GHz signal which was able to reach the furthest distance. To accurately measure the interference levels across the 2.4GHz band, a spectrum analyser was used. They reported that the addition of peak-time high levels of interference did not impact the overall ranking of the results for Wi-Fi performance at range. Whilst high levels of interference reduced Wi-Fi speeds, the BT Smart Hub remained the top performing router.
BT said the testing was carried out in their own test house. They said they had shown in the test house that, whilst interference slowed down routers, it had a proportionate effect on speed on each router, meaning that the ranking order of the routers in terms of the best performance at a far distance did not change. They explained that the background noise in the real homes was low with few neighbouring networks, meaning that the real homes would now allow them to demonstrate the superior performance of their router at range when there were high levels of background interference. They explained they had tested in real homes initially to show that the trend shown in the test house was correct, even when the walls were of different thickness and there were different types of furniture.
2. BT said the methodology used to test their Business Smart Hub was similar to the tests used for the consumer hub, with tests carried out in the lab and on business premises. Hundreds of data-points were captured to make sure the results were repeatable and reliable. Once the superiority of the Business Smart Hub over competitor versions had been confirmed under lab conditions, further testing took place in ten real business premises, of different construction types. That was done to show that the results found in the lab weren’t a one-off but could be replicated in typical business environments. They said the tests they carried out were repeated many times to make sure the results were a fair reflection of their Wi-Fi performance and coverage, with the results in each of their tests showing that the Smart Hub was the best performing Wi-Fi router.
BT said they used the same over-the-air test method as they used for the initial marketing claims, but in the presence of high levels of interference. They said the test devices used for measuring performance were representative of those typically owned and used by businesses. They said they recorded levels of background noise at the time they carried out their ‘real world’ tests.
1. & 2. Upheld
The ASA considered that consumers and business customers would understand the claims “UK’s most powerful Wi-Fi vs. major broadband providers” in ad (a) and “UK's most powerful business Wi-Fi signal vs. major broadband providers” in ad (b) to mean that the BT Smart Hubs provided a stronger signal that any other major broadband provider. They would also understand from the claims that at the furthest point from the router, devices would achieve a faster Wi-Fi speed with the BT routers than the routers from the other major broadband providers, all other factors being equal. We considered they would understand the claim to relate specifically to the abilities of the hubs as opposed to the overall speed they would receive on their devices from their broadband package.
We had previously assessed comparative evidence submitted by BT in relation to the signal strength of the BT consumer Smart Hub and found that their home tests did not sufficiently take into account the impact of different sources of interference so as to determine whether or not they had affected the results. The evidence, therefore, was not sufficient to demonstrate that the BT Smart Hub had the UK’s most powerful Wi-Fi signal.
We sought advice from Ofcom regarding the new data submitted by BT. In relation to ad (a), we acknowledged that BT’s updated round of testing was for higher levels of Wi-Fi interference in laboratory test houses. Although they had not conducted the additional tests in real consumer homes, we considered that it was acceptable to only conduct the tests in test houses as they could create a set of standardised, reproducible conditions, in particular consistent interference levels, which sufficiently reflected real world conditions. We also considered it acceptable to conduct only the additional testing on the 2.4Ghz frequency and not the 5Ghz frequency because it was only on the 2.4Ghz frequency where signals can be reached at far distances from any router.
We noted BT had tested for both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth interference. However, there were other forms of non-Wi-Fi interference common in many households beyond Bluetooth for which BT had not tested. We were therefore concerned that the tests did not fully reflect everyday real household conditions by not including those other forms of non-Wi-Fi interference. Furthermore, no recording of the levels of interference at the time each router was tested had been provided, meaning that we were unable to verify that all the routers tested were subjected to consistent levels of interference.
In relation to ad (b), the testing carried out on the business routers had been conducted in laboratory test houses and a variety of real-world business settings. However, it appeared that the laboratory tests did not test for all forms of non-Wi-Fi interference that would be common in many business environments. Although the different types of Wi-Fi and non-Wi-Fi interference that business customers would experience would invariably be present in the real-world tests, we were concerned that there were no recordings of the levels of interference at the time each router was tested. Therefore, if there was transitory interference during the testing, it would not be clear which devices could have been impacted and if there was an even impact across devices and test scenarios.
Because BT did not test for all significant forms of non-Wi-Fi interference and because they did not provide recordings of the levels of interference when each router was tested, we concluded that the claim “UK's most powerful Wi-Fi vs. major broadband providers" in ad (a) and "UK's most powerful business Wi-Fi signal vs. major broadband providers” in ad (b) had not been substantiated and were therefore misleading.
The ad breached CAP Code (Edition 12) rules
Marketing communications must not materially mislead or be likely to do so.
Marketing communications must not mislead the consumer by omitting material information. They must not mislead by hiding material information or presenting it in an unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely manner.
Material information is information that the consumer needs to make informed decisions in relation to a product. Whether the omission or presentation of material information is likely to mislead the consumer depends on the context, the medium and, if the medium of the marketing communication is constrained by time or space, the measures that the marketer takes to make that information available to the consumer by other means. (Misleading advertising), 3.7 3.7 Before distributing or submitting a marketing communication for publication, marketers must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that consumers are likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation), 3.11 3.11 Marketing communications must not mislead consumers by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product. (Exaggeration) and 3.33 3.33 Marketing communications that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, the consumer about either the advertised product or the competing product. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors).
The ads must not appear again in their current forms. We told BT not to claim that their routers were “the UK’s most powerful” unless they could demonstrate that they could provide a stronger signal than other major providers when subjected to other forms of non-Wi-Fi interference, and unless they could provide recordings of the levels of all types of interference when each router was tested to demonstrate that each router was subjected to consistent levels of interference.