Sprint stops ad claim of 'most dependable 3G network' after Verizon complains

Ad review board says a Sprint footnote didn't reflect most recent network tests

Sprint Nextel has stopped its advertising claim of having "America's most dependable 3G network" after a complaint by Verizon Wireless and a review by a panel of the National Advertising Review Board, the ad industry's self-regulatory body.

In a report released Wednesday, the NARB found that Sprint had relied on two older independent network performance drive tests to bolster its advertising claim when, in fact, Verizon was superior in network dependability on a more recent test. The panel conducted the review Feb. 9.

Sprint said it "respectfully disagrees" with the panel's findings but will stop using the slogan and take the NARB decision into account in future advertisements.

The company had argued that the most recent test favoring Verizon didn't take into account Sprint's wireless strength inside buildings, which it claims is superior. But the NARB panel said there was not enough scientific support to show that Sprint's reliance on outdoor signal strength resulted in reliable indoor signal strength.

Sprint told the panel it had included a footnote in its advertisements that identified the time span of the two tests used to bolster its "most reliable" claim, but the panel disagreed. "Consumers will reasonably interpret a 'most dependable' network claim as indicating the current status of the network, not its performance in tests that have been superseded by more recent tests."

Asked why the report was issued during the semiannual CTIA Wireless conference, and weeks after the panel hearing was held, an NARB spokeswoman said the time frame between the panel hearing and the issuance of the report was typical.

Verizon had initially complained about Sprint's claims to the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, which recommended that Sprint discontinue its claim. Sprint disagreed with the NAD and appealed to the NARB.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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