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Cell C said via Facebook on Thursday that it intends to lodge an appeal with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) against Wednesday’s ruling over its 4Gs marketing campaign, claiming that it amounts to “corporate bullying” from cellular rivals, MTN and Vodacom. The ASA ruled that the mobile service provider’s 4Gs marketing campaign was found to be “misleading” and “dishonest” — and should be withdrawn with “immediate effect”.
In a statement released via Facebook, Cell C CEO Lars Reichelt said that “…it is Cell C’s view that MTN and Vodacom lodged these complaints in an attempt to distract Cell C which has recently established a major competitive advantage in the marketplace”.
The South African mobile operator recently launched what is now widely considered to be the fastest and cheapest mobile broadband in the country, a step up from current 3G offerings by competitors MTN and Vodacom. However it is not technically 4G, but a souped-up form of 3G, offering “speeds of up to 4G”.
Cell C’s two main rivals, MTN and Vodacom, lodged the complaints at the beginning of the month alleging that Cell C was misleading consumers with their claims of having built a 4G network.
Vodacom CEO Pieter Uys commented sarcastically on the issue, saying “there is an urban legend doing the rounds that there is a 4G network being built”.
Corne Koch of the ASA admitted that Cell C had made some attempts via their website to explain that the 4Gs campaign actually meant “4 Great Speed” and “4 Great Service”.
Koch went on to explain that “advertising on one medium cannot be relied on to clear up ambiguity created in another”.
The ruling goes on to say: “The Directorate further rejected substantiation provided for the claims; ‘They are supposedly building the first 4GS network in the Southern Hemisphere’ and ‘Cell C are building a 4GS network that is apparently the most advanced in the Southern Hemisphere’.”
But Reichelt was unequivocal in his defence of the campaign.
“We use the term ‘4GS’ to describe not only our new network, but our overall value proposition, i.e. 4 Great Speed and 4 Great Service and the 4GS logo forms part of our advertising campaign.”
He also defended the performance of the network, saying that “we have made it very clear on many occasions that our network is an HSPA+ 900 based network using Multi Standard Radio, running under Release 7.”
He added: “Contrary to operators overseas, eg. Telia Sonera, Telenor, Clearwire, Sprint, we are not claiming to have a 4G network. Our view is that the public understands very well that Cell C is now the speed and price leader in SA.”
The controversy around what constitutes real 4G is not isolated to South Africa, with international operators incorrectly claiming to be running 4G networks. According to Wikipedia, technically it would seem that the HSPA 900+ network which Cell C is running, is more like a “3.75G” network — a better form of most 3G offerings available today.