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Battle of the bands – do you have the best, the fastest or the strongest Wi-Fi?

Posted by Todd Mersch on 20 October 2016

Comcast recently claimed to have “the fastest internet in America”. A pretty big and bold claim – and one that was quickly retracted thanks to the National Advertising Division (NAD). Comcast was also instructed by the advertising bureau to stop running ads that claimed its Xfinity internet “delivers the fastest, most reliable in-home Wi-Fi”.

Why the backlash from the NAD? Firstly, the claim for the fastest Wi-Fi in America is based on Ookla’s speed test, which the NAD has said isn’t good enough to substantiate the claim. In terms of its in-home Wi-Fi claims, the NAD has told Comcast that it needs to make clear that only users on the 5GHz band can access this superior experience.

But Comcast isn’t the only internet service provider promoting the power and speed of its Wi-Fi. AT&T says that it’s Wi-Fi Gateway “gives you a solid, consistent wireless signal”, while Time Warner Cable offers “fast, reliable, unlimited access”.

And it’s not just a trend limited to the US – it’s also being replicated in the UK. BT’s latest ad for its Smart Hub demonstrates the power of its Wi-Fi by hanging Ryan Reynolds from a helicopter. Virgin Media has also made use of a famous face – Usain Bolt – to highlight how to “be the fastest”. Similarly to Comcast, TalkTalk claimed its Super Router provided the “fastest speeds in the UK” and “reaches parts of your home that the other big providers can’t”. But just like Comcast, TalkTalk was told by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to stop making this claim – following a complaint from BT.

With more devices than people in the world, there is no denying consumer appetite for Wi-Fi is at its peak. Which means having good, consistent Wi-Fi everywhere in the home is quickly becoming an imperative for each and every consumer – and is the reason why we are seeing more and more service providers specifically calling out how great their Wi-Fi is.

But with so many companies saying different things, it’s all getting a little confusing. Does offering 300 Mps actually mean anything to consumers? And more importantly, are consumers actually getting the fast/best/reliable service they are paying for?

Time Warner is a great example. In all of its TV commercials, it consistently states that it has the fastest internet. But when you go to look at its website, it tells you to pick your internet on your needs and not on speed. Confusing, right?

And that’s only the half of it. Consumers are then told to choose their package based on the speeds (what is it, speeds or needs?!). But do consumers know what speed they need? What does a download speed of 50Mbps and upload speed of 5Mbps actually mean? If you asked, would a consumer be able to answer? Cox has come up with a slightly better approach, where its Speed Advisor lets consumers know what speed they require based on whether they’re streaming, or just answering email.

With 72% of consumers considering Wi-Fi vitally important in every room of the house, all that consumers are really worried about is that they can stream the whole series of Stranger Things without it buffering. Or that they can do their online shopping in the kitchen, bedroom or even the bathroom.

But defining what is meant by the fastest, best or most reliable Wi-Fi is not easy. Verizon has based its claim of having the number one internet speeds on customer satisfaction studies. Yet the speed of Wi-Fi is dependent on a number of factors – one of them being the standard it supports. The newest wave of the IEEE 802.11ac standard has a theoretical top speed of 6.9Gbps. But will consumers ever get to experience that speed?

Ultimately, it’s not just speed that’s important – management is also key. It’s all well and good offering fast speeds, but if a congested spectrum band is used, then no one is going to actually enjoy the advertised speed.

As service providers continue to shout from the rooftops about how great their Wi-Fi is, it is clear that messages coming from service providers are not going to get any less confusing. Service providers not only need to make sure their claims are justified and actually resonate with the consumer – they also need to make sure that these speeds are actually obtainable by the consumer.

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