Strangely enough, while rivals AT&T and T-Mobile ran for the launch of nearly national 5G networks last year, Verizon focused on promoting rollouts in sports stadiums and arenas – places where its high-speed, millimeter-wave short-haul – Technology could demonstrate. Now the advertising unit of the Better Business Bureau Verizon is faced with the task of misleading these stadium installations as a proxy to overwrite the modest 5G expansion elsewhere.
This morning, BBB’s Verizon National Advertising Department ceased to claim that it was building “the most powerful 5G experience for America” and recommended that the operator provide clear and eye-catching information about the limited actual availability of its 5G network . While Verizon has agreed to update its information, it will appeal to the National Advertising Review Board against BBB̵
BBB’s action is at a critical point for USG 5G deployments that have so far failed to deliver on the bold promises of the 5G standard. Consumers and businesses were promised 10 to 100 times faster mobile and fixed broadband speeds, as well as single-digit millisecond latency and benefits for the remote industry, which sparked widespread interest in the new technology. However, early US 5G networks ranged from tiny (Verizon) to fuzzy (AT&T) to large and slow (T-Mobile), robbing most potential customers of these expected benefits, though “5G” as the reason for the investment has been heavily marketed in new equipment and services. Similar networks are now delivering much faster average speeds in other parts of the world, which in some cases cover a much larger percentage of the population.
The Verizon rollout was particularly unusual. As one of the two largest mobile operators in the United States, the company has over 100 million mobile customers and has been aggressively promoting 5G for two years. Verizon’s 5G rollouts, however, were almost weird and only covered “parts” of over 30 cities. In some supposedly served areas, coverage of around 3% is estimated from the outside. In some cases, Verizon’s 5G is mostly available in stadiums or airports – retroactive bad bets in 2020 – but the BBB-cited ads implied that the operator’s “powerful” 5G performance was widespread elsewhere and everywhere would be used where the ads were shown. To the extent that Verizon offered disclaimers in ads, these were masked by text-neutralizing colors and fast-moving videos.
It was somewhat surprising that the first complainant in the advertisements was AT&T, the main competitor, who brought the claims to BBB to the resolution. AT&T has caused its own 5G-related headache, which was under-delivered in a 5G consumer network last year, and its 4G LTE Advanced network wrong as “5G Evolution” to consumers in advance of actual access to the 5G network marketed. Sprint, now owned by T-Mobile, sued AT&T in court for 5GE deception and finally decided.
It remains to be seen how Verizon will actually improve its 5G network this year. The airline currently offers super-simplified “5G coverage cards” for 34 cities, of which only one – San Diego – is classified as “coming soon”, although it promises some coverage in 60 US cities by the end of the year. Hans Vestberg, CEO of Verizon, said this week that the expansion of his originally hyped 5G home broadband service will take place in the fall of this year until 5G modems with Qualcomm millimeter-wave hardware will be delivered with longer range. The network operator has also committed to introducing a slower version of 5G that shares its existing 4G spectrum with 5G devices, although the timing is not yet clear.