The results of a mobile phone coverage checker on the website www.three.co.uk. When two complainants entered their postcodes, the results displayed stated "3G coverage. Excellent service. You can make calls, send texts, and use the internet on our 3G network. However, the signal strength may vary, when you're indoors". Text below a map stated "Although we try to make our maps as accurate as possible, the information is only a guide and doesn't guarantee service availability in a particular location".
Two complainants challenged whether the claim that 3G coverage for their postcode was "Excellent" was misleading and could be substantiated, because both received poor signal.
Hutchinson 3G UK (Three) said they used a radio prediction tool to give estimated coverage levels from their 3G network. They explained that this tool applied a radio prediction model to a terrain database and a land-use database and calculated expected coverage in every 50-metre pixel across the country. Three said the prediction tool they used was called ASSET and the prediction model was Myriad, both of which they explained were accepted as industry standard means for predicting network coverage. Three stated that other UK and worldwide mobile network operators used the same tool and model or at least something very similar.
Three explained that the accuracy of their network coverage predictor was above 90%. However, they said there were some areas which did not meet expected coverage levels and this was common across all mobile network operators. They explained that building construction, terrain, congestion or the type of handset used may affect coverage. However, they asserted that their coverage checker was broadly accurate. Despite this, Three said that as part of a wider review they had amended the word "Excellent" to "Very good" in relation to those areas for which their coverage checker predicted the best coverage. They said that their coverage checker methodology had been reviewed and approved by Ofcom in a very thorough manner. Three provided us with an Ofcom report on "Mobile coverage information for consumers". Three pointed us to 1.23 of the report, which stated that "the underlying propagation models that the operators use are broadly accurate and that coverage checkers are useful for consumers". Three asserted that they used one of the propagation models Ofcom had investigated. Three also provided us with a report carried out for Ofcom by CRFS, a radio frequency technology company. The report contained mobile signal strength research and compared actual signal strength compared to the quoted predicted signal strengths from mobile network operators including Three. The report stated that "the measured signal strengths were in line with the operators' predictions". The report also stated that "the signal strengths measured were higher than the predicted values". Three stated that the report concluded that the mobile operators' "propagation models are reasonably accurate and, if anything, err on the cautious side in their predictions".
Three pointed out that below their network coverage checker, they included the following wording, "Although we try to make these coverage results as accurate as possible, the information is only a guide and doesn't guarantee service availability in a particular location. If you'd like more detailed coverage information, please call us on 333 (free) from a Three mobile, or 0845 *** **** (national rate) from any other phone". They believed that this made it clear that the coverage checker, despite being largely accurate, was a prediction and it invited customers to call them for more detailed coverage information.
The ASA acknowledged that both complainants had experienced poor network signal, despite the fact the Three mobile network coverage checker results for both complainants' postcodes stated that they should have had an "excellent" signal. However, we noted that Three said the coverage checker was 90% accurate and they had provided independent evidence from Ofcom and CRFS, which showed that the prediction tool and prediction model used by Three were largely accurate. We therefore considered that the coverage checker results were accurate for a significant majority of Three customers.
We understood that Three was unable to examine a consumer's speed on an individual basis, but only with reference to their geographical area as dictated by their postcode and we understood that there may be spots within a postcode that experienced better or worse signal than the results provided for the postcode as a whole. Furthermore we noted that wording at the bottom of the mobile coverage checker explained that it was only a guide and invited customers to contact Three for more detailed coverage information in their area. We considered consumers would understand that the coverage checker result was only an estimate, and because the text under the map stated it was only a guide, their own speed could be better or worse than the result provided. We therefore concluded that the ad was not misleading.
We investigated the ad under CAP Code (Edition 12) rules 3.1 3.1 Marketing communications 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), 3.9 3.9 Marketing communications must state significant limitations and qualifications. Qualifications may clarify but must not contradict the claims that they qualify. (Qualification) and 3.11 3.11 Marketing communications must not mislead consumers by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product. (Exaggeration) but did not find it in breach.
No further action necessary.