Unfortunate omissions lead to fantastical BT Smart Hub Wi-Fi advert ban
Measuring Wi-Fi speeds is something we have experience with and thus it was interesting to read the latest adjudication from the ASA about a series of adverts featuring Ryan Reynolds promoting the Wi-Fi capabilities of the Smart Hub supplied with the BT Infinity service.
There was a total of 61 complaints with a mixture of public and competing providers complaining mainly relating to whether the claims of coverage and speeds could be substantiated, and what follows in the adjudication is details of the testing BT carried out using hardware from seven competitors in laboratory testing, additional in home testing was carried out using the BT Smart Hub which gave results in line with the lab testing and therefore testing of the other hardware was not done in those homes. The testing covered both the 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands and used devices with single and multiple antenna, and was a test of Wi-Fi speeds rather than end to end Internet speeds, i.e. in common with almost every review of broadband hardware.
The reason the adverts have been banned is not that the Smart Hub did not perform as claimed, but that insufficient prominence was given to the fact that the comparisons were against devices supplied by other major broadband providers rather than the whole broadband Wi-Fi router market with the ASA stating "We understood that, in both cases, the comparisons were intended to be against major providers, but considered that the headline claims were very broad and would be understood as whole-of-market comparisons".
We noted that BT had repeated the tests extensively, resulting in a total of 46,080 data points per router, and the overall results indicated that the BT SmartHub had the fastest TCP throughput at every point where a connection was achieved, across both frequencies. We also noted that BT had used a dedicated programme to generate TCP internet activity that was relevant to a range of typical consumer activities using wi-fi, and had taken steps to control for directionality. Virgin and Sky were concerned that the tests had not been run with the routers connected to a broadband network, but with data traffic generated by a testing tool, which they said resulted in network speeds higher than those achievable by BT’s own broadband networks. However, we understood that this was done to avoid the variability of network speeds, which might be slower at peak times, thus affecting the data. Because consumers were likely to understand that the claim referred to the distance the wi-fi signal could reach, we considered that the speed of the fixed-line network was not relevant, and it followed that if a router had been shown to produce the signal with the greatest reach when connected to a given network (or data traffic generated to replicate activity on a network), then it would demonstrate a similar performance relative to other routers, in that respect, when connected to any other network, regardless of that network’s speed capabilities. Overall, we considered that the methodology of the tests was sufficiently robust to demonstrate that the BT router had the most powerful wi-fi signal within the context of the test houses.Extract from ASA adjudication
It seems Virgin Media and Sky are not aware that people can and do stream video across their local networks from storage devices and in fact for people with slow or congested broadband, downloading to a storage device in the home and then streaming when ready is a great way to enjoy buffer free video or watch programmes in a higher quality than their connection can normally support.
Looking forward perhaps the next series of adverts should actually show the competitors hubs and a groundhog day scenario with Ryan Reynolds showing how far each of the hubs can reach before his signal stops streaming a video! Another idea is a waterproof mobile and see how deep in his swimming pool he can go and still stream or not given the attenuation effects.
There is a massive amount of variation in the results people get from different providers Wi-Fi routers and a lot of that is down to the different environments e.g. someone with just 802.11n on 2.4 GHz and lots of neighbours will have more issues, add to this the greedy neighbour scenario where someone is using 40 MHz wide channels rather than 20 MHz and interference across multiple channels is a big problem. Our advice if streaming films to your TV, if at all possible use an Ethernet connection and if that is not possible make sure that you are using 802.11ac or better and are on the 5 GHz band - the higher band does not reach as far but has more channel capacity and the limited reach helps to reduce interference from neighbours. If your broadband providers standard kit is still just an 802.11n single band router and you have been with them for a while pester for their latest device (often free if you agree to a new contract period).