Advertising standards council of India orders Airtel to stop airing misleading 4G challenge ad by 7th October

By October 1st, 2015 AT 9:59 AM

In view of the consumer complaints regarding Airtel’s 4G ad campaign where the operator challenges subscribers to find a faster network than it’s own and get their lifetime bills paid by Airtel, the ad campaign was thoroughly scrutinised by the ‘Advertising standards council of India’ (ASCI). After reviewing the supporting evidence provided by Airtel in its defence, the ASCI found that Airtel’s ads were grossly misleading and ordered the operator to stop airing the TV commercial as well as refrain from publishing the ad in print media from 7th October onwards or raise the issue for further review with ASCI with more supporting evidence.

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As the only commercial providers of this world class technology in India, our advertising campaign revolves around the 4G promise of fastest internet speeds and features, a set of claims that are based on rigorous test conditions” An Airtel spokesperson said. “We are engaging with ASCI to provide them technical data in support of our advertising claims and are following the prescribed process to schedule a review of the said issue. We are confident of getting a favourable response from them” he added.

The complaint was considered by the Consumer Complaints Council (CCC) at their meeting. As per their decision, the complaint was upheld. The CCC viewed the print advertisement and considered the Advertiser’s response as well as the opinion of the technical expert presented at the meeting. The supporting documents provided by the advertiser do not mention “fastest network”. The Annexure I clarifies that the numbers are meant to be taken as such only in favourable conditions and also states that the average rates are lower than this peak rate and are difficult to predict because they depend on a multitude of operational and network factors.

The major factors are physical propagation environment and network congestion. Thus, a favourable location in a lightly loaded 3G network can certainly give a better network performance than a congested 4G network access at the cell edge. The advertiser should read conditions 1 and 2 listed in page 56 and 57 of Annexure I which should repeal such false claim of being the “fastest network ever”.The response provided by Advertiser shows that in the same favorable conditions, 4G speeds are three times that of 3G. However, it is well known that the data-rate in such networks is logarithmic in the received SNR (signal to noise ratio). It is also known that the SNR typically falls of at an exponential rate of 2.2 to 3.0 with distance. Thus a 4G end-user at 3_ distance to the base-station than a 3G one has less data-rates to claim.

Also read: Network which claims to be the fastest in India actually ranks 147th globally by download speeds

Clearly the 4G challenge can be easily broken in download speeds by using a 3G phone only in favorable locations. So the aim of the challenge is not very clear. The advertisement also contains statements like `a movie in 3 minutes’, album `upload in 1 minute’, statements which are clearly false is many contexts, unless qualified with statistical support/disclaimers. The CCC concluded that though 4G provides better services than 3G under the same operating conditions, it is not right to claim it as “the fastest network ever”. The claim in the Ad, “Airtel 4G is the fastest network ever” and “If your network is faster, we will pay your mobile bills for life”, is misleading by omission in the absence of appropriate disclaimers in the print, TV , hoarding advertisements itself. The advertisement contravened Chapter 1.4 of the Code.

ASCI has advised the Advertiser to withdraw or to modify appropriately the said advertisement before the October 7, 2015 or seek a review of the decision. If you continue to see the advertisement after the due date kindly bring the same to ASCI’s notice.

Esmail is our very own in-house spectrum specialist. He is passionate about Telecom, DTH and OTT video streaming apps. When not writing an article, you can find him binge watching shows on Netflix while sipping on a cup of coffee.

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