A TV ad and website for BT, seen in June 2018:
a. The TV ad featured a voice-over which referenced various mobile deals and continued, “Plus you’ll get fast 4G and wi-fi in more places than O2, Vodafone and Three”. Small on-screen text stated “…To verify see bt.com/moreplaces. 4G speeds vary by location, coverage & demand. See btwifi.com”.
b. The web page www.productsandservices.bt.com/mobile/more-places (arrived at via the bt.com/moreplaces hyperlink referenced in ad (a)), headed “BT Mobile - More places”, stated “Get the combined power of 4G and unlimited wi-fi in more places than O2, Vodafone and Three”. Further text stated “BT Mobile customers get unlimited access to our wi-fi network, with another 5 million hotspots in the UK”. A table listed the number of wi-fi hotspots that BT and its competitors offered, referencing the source of the data as Tefficient’s report ‘Public industry analysis #6’ published in December 2014. The table stated that BT offered 5,400,000 wi-fi hotspots, Vodafone offered 22,000, O2 offered 15,700 and Three offered 16,000.
Telefonica UK Ltd t/a O2, who believed that the majority of BT’s hotspots were ‘homespots’ which provided lower quality WiFi access than the public hotspots offered by BT’s competitors, challenged whether the comparison was misleading.
British Telecommunications plc (BT) believed consumers would understand the claim “4G and wi-fi in more places than O2, Vodafone and Three” to mean that they could access WiFi in more places with BT than they could with the three named competitors. They said it was not a claim that both the homespot (which provided WiFi to BT customers through BT home hubs) and public hotspot parts of their WiFi network would always have superior performance on all measures compared to WiFi networks which were comprised only of public hotspots.
They provided a link to a page on their website which showed the number and location of all active hotspots at any one time across the UK. They said that while they did not have the most public hotspots compared to their competitors, the coverage provided by more than five million homespots made up the difference in places where WiFi was available. They said that was demonstrated by figures relating to the number of users of their WiFi network and the relative numbers who accessed the network via their public hotspots and homespots. BT said consumers would not be misled by the claim, because they would be able to access WiFi in more places if they chose BT over O2, Vodafone or Three.
O2 had referred to three factors which they believed meant that homespots provided lower quality WiFi compared to public hotspots. BT said they were not relevant to the complaint given the difference in the number of places where they provided WiFi compared to their competitors, and the way in which consumers would understand the claim, but they provided their comments on each factor.
BT acknowledged that some home hubs were switched off temporarily, during which time they would not form part of BT’s WiFi network. However, that constituted only a small percentage of home hubs, with over five million consistently remaining part of the network. The figure stated in their ads did not include the home hubs of users who had opted out of the network. BT explained that while the locations of all public hotspots were planned in order to provide optimum coverage for users, the locations of homespots could not be planned. They acknowledged they had fewer public hotspots than O2, and therefore fewer planned WiFi coverage, but said that even unplanned coverage from over five million homespots would more than make up the difference. In relation to the security of WiFi provided via homespots, BT said they offered the same security mechanisms as O2’s WiFi and confirmed that home users could not access any of the public WiFi traffic.
Clearcast, responding in relation to the TV ad, said BT had confirmed that they had over five million WiFi hotspots, and that it was the UK’s largest WiFi network. As the TV ad did not refer to hotspots, Clearcast had not considered a possible distinction between hotspots and homespots.
Ad (a) featured the claim “Plus you’ll get fast 4G and wi-fi in more places than O2, Vodafone and Three”, and ad (b) included the claim “Get the combined power of 4G and unlimited wi-fi in more places than O2, Vodafone and Three”. The ASA considered consumers would understand those claims to mean that BT mobile customers would be able to get WiFi coverage in more places with BT than with the three named competitors. While we considered consumers would understand the claim to be specifically about the number of WiFi hotspots available, we considered they would also have some expectation that the quality of WiFi provided by those hotspots would generally be sufficient for them to engage in the types of activities for which they might use public WiFi without difficulty or interruption, for example web-browsing, use of messaging apps, and other low-data activities (rather than, for example, streaming video).
O2 had referred to the Tefficient report referenced in ad (b) to support the points raised in their complaint. The report identified some challenges that occurred with both homespots and public hotspots, although it said those challenges could be made worse due to spotty coverage offered in public areas by homespots. However, it noted that issues of coverage could be compensated for where there were millions of homespots in a network.
We understood that BT’s WiFi network consistently included, at any one time, over five million homespots. We had not seen any evidence which suggested that the quality of WiFi from BT’s homespots was insufficient for consumers to engage in the sorts of activities they might generally expect to be able to engage in when using public WiFi. We further noted that while only a fraction of BT’s WiFi network was delivered through public hotspots, the difference between the number of public hotspots operated by O2 compared to that provided by BT was not substantial.
Because WiFi coverage was available in more places with BT than O2 and the other named competitors, we concluded the claims had been substantiated and were not misleading.
We investigated the ads under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (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) and 3.33 3.33 Advertisements that include a comparison with an identifiable competitor must not mislead, or be likely to mislead, consumers about either the advertised product or service or the competing product or service. (Comparisons with identifiable competitors), but did not find them in breach.
No further action necessary.