4G fight continues: Cell C vs Vodacom and MTN

Cell C launched its first 21Mbps HSPA+ broadband services in Port Elizabeth in September 2010, shaking up the cellular market with higher speeds and aggressively priced data deals.

Cell C marketed its new mobile broadband network and services as 4Gs, which the company explained stands for “4 Great Service” and “4 Great Speed”.

Vodacom, MTN and a few consumers were not impressed, and lodged four separate complaints with the Advertising Standards Authority of South Africa (ASA).

Both Vodacom and MTN argued that Cell C is actually using the term 4Gs to describe their network as 4G – which is ambiguous and will mislead consumers.

In October 2010 the ASA ruled that Cell C’s use of the term 4Gs is unqualified and ambiguous, and ordered the cellular provider to withdraw this advertising with immediate effect.

Cell C hits back

Cell C vowed to fight this ruling, and this battle continued at the ASA offices in Johannesburg on Wednesday 9 March 2011 during the appeal hearings.

Cell C highlighted the fact that it is not using the term 4G in its advertising, but rather 4Gs with a different meaning.

Cell C CEO Lars Reichelt added that despite the fact that they don’t refer to having a 4G network, the ITU’s recent 4G media statement confirmed that they do indeed have a 4G network.

On 6 December 2010 the ITU published a press release containing the following statement: “As the most advanced technologies currently defined for global wireless mobile broadband communications, IMT-Advanced is considered as ‘4G’, although it is recognized that this term, while undefined, may also be applied to the forerunners of these technologies, LTE and WiMax, and to other evolved 3G technologies [like HSPA+].”

Reichelt argued that this statement by the ITU effectively confirmed that Cell C’s HSPA+ network is in fact a 4G network, and that the term 4Gs can therefore not be ambiguous.

Reichelt further said that the term 4G is widely used as a marketing term by international operators such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint, demonstrating the fact that the technical definition for 4G not necessarily a standard which applies to mobile broadband marketing.

Vodacom retorts

Vodacom responded to Cell C saying that the ITU’s press release does not in fact endorse the use of the term 4G in relation to an HSPA+ network, but rather that they merely said that they are aware that this happens in industry.

Vodacom’s Jannie Van Zyl said he found it interesting Cell C based their argument on a vaguely worded press statement without asking the ITU for clarity.

According to van Zyl Vodacom contacted the ITU to gain clarity on the issue, and Colin Langtry from the ITU explained they (the ITU) still maintain that only IMT Advanced (hence LTE Advanced and 802.16m WiMax) qualify as true 4G.

Van Zyl added that the ITU said that, in this press release, merely acknowledged that others are using the term ‘4G’ to describe non-IMT-Advanced technologies and the press statement should not be read as an endorsement by the ITU of any technologies, not accepted as IMT-Advanced, as 4G.

Vodacom also approached the 3GPP for comment and the 3GPP’s Kevin Flynn responded that the 3GPP, who develops the technologies used by Vodacom, MTN and Cell C, maintains that only Release 10 and beyond (LTE-Advanced) can be considered true 4G. Currently Cell C, Vodacom and MTN run release 7 (HSPA+).

Vodacom further said that they feel that Cell C purposefully used the term 4Gs in their advertising to confuse consumers – substantiating their argument by showing a video of the Cell C CEO describing their network as ‘4G’ in early 2010.

Vodacom also showed numerous press releases and other interviews, dated between December 2009 and August 2010, where Cell C stated they are building a 4G network. “Only after the formal launch of the network was the ‘4GS” logo introduced,” said Van Zyl.

“It is therefore impossible to divorce the 4GS logo from this initial communication,” DraftFCB’s Jerry Mpufane stated on behalf of Vodacom.

MTN responds

MTN essentially said the same as Vodacom, adding that the ‘s’ in Cell C’s 4Gs advertising was so small that it is not easily visible and questioned the intend of using a very small ‘s’ to denote the key message of ‘Speed’ and ‘Service’.

MTN further told the ASA that their initial ruling that Cell C’s advertising was ambiguous was accurate, and that it should remain unchanged despite Cell C’s appeal.

MTN also highlighted that the ITU press statement on 4G was only published in December – many months after Cell C started to use the term 4Gs.

When it came to Cell C’s “4 Great Service” and “4 Great Speed” claims, MTN basically conceded that Cell C may offer the best value proposition, but argued that their claims of having the best speed and service is debatable. Vodacom concurred, showing test results from speedtest.net putting the networks on par in terms of speed.

ASA ruling soon

ASA spokesperson Corne Koch explained that the deliberations regarding the hearings took place on Wednesday 9 March 2011, and that a ruling will be made public soon.

4G and 4Gs battle << Who do you think is right?

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4G fight continues: Cell C vs Vodacom and MTN