EE rapped by ASA over misleading mobile coverage checker


Operator must not use ad in its current form again after customer complained he was misled by the checker that told him he would receive excellent 3G coverage within his postcode

The ASA has said EE must change its mobile coverage checker after a customer complained he had wrongly been told that coverage for 3G calls and internet within his postcode was ‘excellent’.

The coverage checker can be found on EE’s website. When the customer entered his postcode, the text stated: “Fast, reliable internet access and high quality calling. Available on 4GEE, Orange and T-Mobile plans.”

However, the complainant challenged whether 3G coverage in his area was excellent because he had no mobile signal at home and a poor signal outside.

T-Mobile said that when consumers clicked on the coverage checker results, they were given further details, including that the phone should work outdoors and in most houses and commercial buildings. It said the structure and design of the checker had been updated on July 24 and were willing to make further changes if necessary.

The operator said its internal records showed there had not been any problems with the coverage at the complainant’s postcode. The checker was updated weekly for 4G and fortnightly for 2G and 3G.

It pointed out text under the map made clear it was only a guide and not a guarantee of service availability in a particular place, adding it shows outdoor coverage only and may include areas where devices don’t work. This could be affected by factors such as building materials, tree cover and weather conditions, making clear factors outside of its control could affect coverage.

Coverage is also greatly affected by the device a consumer used, said T-Mobile, because the way a device uses signal varies between manufacturers and models.

T-Mobile gave customers the option to return their device for a full refund within 14 days of purchase if they experienced coverage problems in any of the three locations in which they were most likely to use the phone. The complainant didn’t do this. He had also been offered the chance to end his contract without charge, but he declined.

Once the complaint was received, T-Mobile sent engineers to the postcode and surrounding areas to conduct network testing to verify coverage was excellent, providing details of the tests and threshold applied.

It showed coverage in the complainant’s postcode was generally excellent, with only a small area having coverage that was less strong, adding that area formed an insignificant proportion of the postcode (less than two per cent) and would therefore not be useful to consumers if the checker described coverage in the whole postcode as poor.

T-Mobile acknowledged the complainant had received poor coverage but said that might be as a result of the device, structure of his home or of living in the small area of the postcode that received poor coverage.

It believed the ad was not misleading and emphasised that consumers could obtain a refund if the coverage was not expected.

However, the ASA upheld the complaint and said the ad must not appear in its current form again, telling T-Mobile to ensure its future advertising made immediately clear the conditional nature of coverage checker results.

It acknowledged T-Mobile was willing to make changes to its advertising. However, while it understood the claim that the complainant’s postcode received excellent coverage continued to appear (albeit now in a different format), it was concerned the data produced at a later date did not provide evidence of the coverage levels in the area at the time the complainant saw the claim.

The ASA said the overall impression of the ad was such that it was likely to be understood to mean that “Fast, reliable internet access and high quality claling” was “Available on 4GEE, Orange and T-Mobile” to consumers in the relevant postcode and considered consumers were likely to understand the ad to mean that T-Mobile offered excellent coverage in the postcode.

It also acknowledged the qualification below the map stating it only related to outdoor coverage and was intended only as a guide, but said the ad did not make sufficiently clear the claims that appeared under the “coverage results” were intended as a guide and that coverage could be affected by a range of factors.