Three rebuked for claims about their 5G network

23 July 2021   By Dr Lucy Brown, Editor

Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) uphold complaint against Three for making misleading claims in a 2020 TV ad.

The advert included suggestions that Three were building the UK's fastest 5G network and that it was 'real' 5G.

In a complaint, Vodafone argued these claims were misleading and could not be substantiated.

ASA agreed with that assessment and warned Three to be more careful with their claims in future as well as banning the ads from appearing again.

5g tower

TV ad

The TV ad for Three's 5G network aired in March 2020 to promote the launch of their 5G mobile services in February of the same year. The company had previously launched 5G home broadband in August 2019.

It was claimed in the ad that Three were building the UK's fastest 5G network and their 5G was 'real', both claims that Vodafone took issue with in a complaint to ASA.

Despite Three arguing against the criticism, ASA upheld the complaint and warned the provider they shouldn't broadcast the ad in that form again.

They also warned they should ensure future ads did not mislead about the 5G service they offer to customers or imply competitors do not offer 'real' 5G.

Three's defence

Three raised several technical issues in defence of their claims:

  1. Only their network was supported by 100MHz of spectrum in a contiguous block which drove faster 5G speeds
  2. They were the only network to have a Cloud core for more efficient and reliable data transmission
  3. They offered customers pure 5G data sessions whenever they were within coverage of a 5G mast
  4. It was not misleading to claim they were building the fastest 5G network based on spectrum advantage now even if that advantage may be lessened in the future

They also said the claim of 'real 5G' came at the end of a fictional futuristic advert which the average consumer would understand to be futuristic.

ASA looked at these defences and conferred with Ofcom but ultimately decided the claims that Three offered the fastest 5G network in the UK were misleading and the implication that competitors did not offer 'real 5G' was also misleading too.

They concluded Three had not shown that their 5G customers would experience a better service that those on difference networks, so the ad was banned.


Whenever ASA issue a ruling like this, we always point out that the most they can currently do is ban the ads in question and warn providers not to do it again.

This doesn't always deter telecommunications companies from making claims they cannot back up in future, and it doesn't help that ASA take so long to make a judgement on complaints.

These complaints against Three date back to March 2020 and, notwithstanding the coronavirus crisis getting in the way of normal business, there is usually a lengthy delay between the ad being shown and the judgement being made.

As an example, it was 10 months between a BT broadband ad being shown in May 2018 and it being banned in March 2019.

In effect, by the time the ads are banned, the providers in question had little intention of showing the ad in its existing form again anyway.

There is a danger that ASA rulings become a stick for different providers to hit each other with, and it's often a rival who puts in a complaint against one company's claims.

Yet with 5G demand yet to take off and customers still reticent to switch to 5G devices and plans, it's worth keeping an eye on the 5G claims made by mobile networks and whether these can be substantiated.

Read more about 5G mobile broadband and who's doing it best according to recent data.

Find the best deal on a new handset

independent comparison

We are independent of all of the products and services we compare.

fair comparison

We order our comparison tables by price or feature and never by referral revenue.

charity donations and climate positive

We donate at least 5% of our profits to charity, and we have a climate positive workforce.

Get insider tips and the latest offers in our newsletter

Mobile Phone Deals

ee mobile phones
giffgaff mobile
o2 mobile phones
three mobile phones
vodafone mobile phones