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Ads watchdog whacks Orange over coverage claim

Geographical reach != population spread

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Orange has been told not to claim in its adverts that its 3G mobile broadband network "covers more people in the UK" than any other operator's network does - at least without defining 'coverage' more tightly.

The judgement, from the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), follows a complaint from rival carrier Three, which reckons it has the bigger network - in terms of population coverage, if not geographical spread.

Orange's ad, run in local newspapers, was headlined "top dongle" over a pic of its own 3G modem.

In response to the complaint, Orange said Three's own figures, published on the Three website, put its population coverage at 91 per cent. Orange claims 93.4 per cent population coverage, putting it ahead.

Orange did acknowledge that Three has the larger geographical reach of the two operators, the ASA said. That's handy because the ASA said it had checked with telecoms watchdog Ofcom and found that to be the indeed the case.

However, the claim made in Orange's ad "was ambiguous in the context of a mobile broadband service because it did not make clear whether it was referring to Orange covering more people in the places where they lived than any other operator - population coverage - or more people in the UK, wherever they might be using their 3G mobile device - geographical coverage", the ASA said.

It's worth noting that population coverage isn't as clear cut as geographical coverage, thanks to the uncertain nature of the methodologies each network uses to work these things out - methods that they do no make public. For its part, Ofcom hasn't said how it calculates population coverage either.

Given the vague nature of the population coverage claim, it's possible, the ASA suggested, that a network may well believe it has a greater reach than its rivals. Orange's mistake, then, was not make such a claim but to fail to make it clear that it was talking specifically about population coverage and not geographical extent. ®

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