Fraudulent or Misleading Advertising, Marketing & Sales

Implicature n. The aspect of meaning that a speaker conveys, implies, or suggests without directly expressing.

"Marketers maintain they are not in full control of consumer meaning-making processes and therefore, are only liable for a literal interpretation of their ads. Unsurprisingly, implicature has become a valued advertising technique; weak and unsubstantiated product claims can be easily reworked into convincing sales pitches that can potentially mislead consumers to infer more meaning than is actually proffered."

Cellular carriers are notorious for their misleading advertising, marketing, and sales tactics.

Tactics by Carrier

AT&T Wireless
AT&T has begun promoting its GSM service in this area. The coverage is much worse than their TDMA coverage, and suffers the same in-building penetration problems as other 1900Mhz based networks (Cingular/T-Mobile GSM, and Sprint PCS CDMA). AT&T offers one GSM handset that provides AMPS capability. AT&T is at least letting "Next Generation" subscribers go back to TDMA without penalties, and the GAIT phone should mitigate the return of GSM customers to TDMA.

For implicature gone wild, letís look at Nextel. Nextelís value proposition is its two-way radio feature called Push to Talk (PTT). Nextel uses a proprietary technology called iDEN. Nextel handsets can only use iDEN, though they do have one GSM 900/iDEN combination so you can use a SIM card outside the U.S..

Nextelís iDEN service was never intended to be a substitute for cellular. It was designed as a replacement for two-way radios. How do you market the wireless network that provides the least geographic coverage,  has no ability to roam onto the biggest networks in the country, serves the least number of geographic markets, and has the smallest number of customers? Implicature of course!

In defense of Nextel, they do not appear to make more than a token effort to market their service to individual subscribers. In the context of their stated target markets (enterprise, general business, and vertical markets), their statements appear more reasonable because these markets may not care about coverage outside the urban areas that Nextel serves. Yet according to some people, Nextel is indeed trying to go after individual subscribers, in which case their marketing is full of implicature. You decide.

What they say: "Nextel serves 95 percent of America's Fortune 500 companies"

What they are trying to imply: Nextel has the corporate contracts for wireless service at 95% of the top companies in the U.S..

Is it true, what donít they say, and what does it mean?
There are departments at these 95% of the Fortune 500 companies that use Nextel service. What they donít say is that there are other departments at these companies that use other carriers. It means nothing in terms of the quality of service compared to other wireless carriers, except in the area of PTT. Itís like Coca-Cola claiming, ďCoca-Cola serves 95 percent of Americaís Fortune 500 companies.Ē

What they say: "Nextel and Nextel Partners, Inc., currently serve 293 of the top 300 U.S. markets."

What they are trying to imply: Nextel coverage is ubiquitous.

Is it true, what donít they say, and what does it mean?
Itís true, but what they donít say is that these 293 markets constitute only a tiny part of the area of the country. It means that the coverage is very limited.

What they say: "Nextel and Nextel Partners service is available today in areas of the United States where approximately 248 million people live or work."

What they are trying to imply: Nextel coverage is ubiquitous.

Is it true, what donít they say, and what does it mean?
It is true that they cover the areas where these people live or work. It does not mean that Nextel coverage is ubiquitous. It does not say that they cover the areas where they live and work, itís live or work. What they donít say, is that outside of the urban and suburban areas where most people live or work, Nextel coverage is non-existent. So donít expect coverage in popular vacation spots, or along freeways between urban areas.

What they say: "Nextel Communications, a Fortune 300 company based in Reston, VA, is a leading provider of fully integrated, wireless communications services and has built the largest guaranteed, all-digital, wireless network in the country."

What they are trying to imply: That their network is large, that an all-digital network is superior to other networks, and that they somehow guarantee coverage.

Is it true, what donít they say, and what does it mean?
This oneís a whopper. Their network is not the largest network. It is not the largest digital network. It is not the largest all-digital network. It is the largest all-digital network where you are guaranteed NEVER to fall back to analog, because the handsets donít support it. Sprint PCS has a bigger all-digital network, but they canít guarantee that youíll never end up roaming on AMPS on someone elseís network.

SprintPCS takes the top spot in the misleading category with their "Clear Alternative to Cellular" campaign, including, "We built the largest all digital PCS network." There are four modifiers in that sentence, 'built,' 'all,' 'digital,' and 'PCS.' SprintPCS did indeed build the largest all digital PCS network. But they did not build the biggest network, or the biggest digital network, or even have the biggest all-digital network (Nextel has a bigger digital network but it is not PCS). T-Mobile has a nationwide network but they did build the whole thing; some of it belongs to Cingular. The reality is that Sprint has the smallest digital network of any of the major carriers except T-Mobile. They charge high roaming fees when their users have to roam onto 800Mhz CDMA systems, such as Verizon's, or AMPS systems operated by AT&T or Verizon.

Virgin Mobile
Virgin Mobile, which uses the SprintPCS network, gets second place for the gem on their web site regarding roaming which states:

Q. Does Virgin Mobile coverage include roaming?
A. Roaming is for buffalo. All our services are supported by 100% digital coverage. No roaming means no roaming charges, so you pay the same rate for all calls.

The truth is that with Virgin Mobile's inability to roam, even for an extra charge, your coverage is severely limited. The answer to this question should be:

No roaming means no roaming charges, so you pay the same rate for all calls but you won't be able to make calls in many areas of the country, including some local areas.

Forget about coverage when leaving the metropolitan area (with regular Sprint PCS service you can roam onto Verizon, a number of smaller carriers, and AMPS). This means no coverage on the I-5 corridor, no coverage in Mendocino county (U.S. Cellular), no coverage in Calaveras county (Golden State Cellular), etc. Too bad, since they have about the best prepaid rates, and at least one of the phones they offer is technically capable of operating at CDMA 800Mhz and on AMPS.

Cingular (California, New York City)
Cingular omits all one year contracts from its web site; you can only sign up for two year contracts on-line.

Cingular actually will sell its California subscribers a GAIT phone, but they do not publicize this information and they do not offer these phones in stores or on-line. The only way to get one is to contact Cingular's Western Regional office directly, but they do not provide any way to contact them (no e-mail address or phone number). I found out this information only when I received an e-mail from Cingular's "Office of the President" after I had sent an inquiry to one of their press spokesperson whose e-mail address was publicized in a press release.

Cingular's Different Regions and Systems

There is a big difference between Cingular based on region.

In areas that were part of what were originally BellSouth (Southern Bell) and SBC, Cingular operates 800 Mhz AMPS and 800 Mhz TDMA networks and is transitioning to GSM 1900 Mhz and later GSM 850 Mhz.

In New York City, Cingular uses T-Mobile's 1900 Mhz GSM infrastructure

In California Cingular took over the Pacific Bell Wireless GSM system and operates a GSM-only 1900 Mhz system which they share with T-Mobile.

Service is indeed fine in the Cingular 800 Mhz TDMA/800 Mhz AMPS areas with a TDMA/AMPS handset. Cingular subscribers from these areas are often confused as to the reason for all the problems that current and former Cingular subscribers in New York City and the western region are complaining about.

A subscriber from Cingular's TDMA areas to Cingular's GSM-only area will roam onto another TDMA carrier, usually AT&T wireless. They will be blissfully unaware of any issues with coverage.

Verizon's America's Choice Plan started off great; you could roam onto Sprint PCS in areas where there was no Verizon coverage. Apparently there was a little too much of this going on, so Verizon has begun removing some of the SprintPCS roaming capability by modifying the PRL (Preferred Roaming List) software that contains the information on which partners you can roam on for free. You can see the decreasing coverage (at least you used to be able to) at:

Verizon doesn't want America's Choice subscribers to roam onto other carriers in areas where Verizon has a network presence. But, as with any carrier, there are dead spots within covered regions that lack a signal. Many people signed up for America's Choice precisely because they knew that the roaming onto other carriers would help eliminate dead spots. Now, after the fact, Verizon decides that they don't want subscribers roaming onto other carriers when in these dead spots; they prefer that the subscriber have no coverage at all. The proper solution is for Verizon to erect new towers to eliminate dead spots; this will ensure that their subscribers do not roam onto other networks. In the meantime they should not be changing the PRLs to eliminate roaming in areas where it was available when America's Choice subscribers signed up for the plan.

Verizon has also been removing coverage in areas where they do not have native coverage. I.e. they recently removed two roaming partners in Alaska.

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Business Ethics

There is a fine line between misleading consumers with slick marketing that is technically accurate but that uses a lot of implicature and omission, and outright lying.

Carrier Comments
AT&T AT&T doesn't hide any rate plans and they don't make false claims about their network. They should explicitly state that the Nationwide on-network plan has less local coverage than their local and regional plans (they do disclose this to subscribers who call to switch to their nationwide plan). AT&T includes both 1 and 2 year rate plan terns on their web site. AT&T is less than upfront about the limitations of their GSM network.
Cingular Cingular should be more up-front about their coverage problems on their GSM system. They also should stop saying that subscribers can roam onto any GSM system in the U.S., since it isn't true. They do not include 1 year rate plans on their web site, even though these plans exist and are no more expensive per month (you just pay more for the phone).
Nextel Nextel could improve by explicitly stating that their phones are not suitable for people that travel outside urban areas.
Sprint Sprint has improved greatly, but they still have the schtick about how they built the largest all digital PCS network. Sprint does not include all available rate plans on their web site.

Sprint is facing a slew of lawsuits by their troubled affiliates (click for news stories)

T-Mobile Much improved but they should put their prepaid plan on their regular web site.
Verizon Verizon should stop lying about the decreasing coverage of America's Choice. They should also stop threatening people that expose it to the public. Verizon is taking advantage of its dominant position to increase rates, though often subtly, by charging for services that used to be included in the base rate, then later increasing the base rate and removing the extra charge.

On the plus side: 1. Verizon is the only carrier that has given up fighting number portability, though their actions should not be misconstrued. As Patrick Mannion of Communications Systems Design wrote in an article: "The recent decision by Verizon Wireless to offer no-fee wireless local-number portability (LNP) by the FCC-mandated deadline of Nov. 24 is simultaneously an example of extreme hypocrisy and extraordinary business savvy."  2. Verizon is one of only two carriers that is not charging onerous non-governmental regulatory fees for LNP or other government mandated programs. 3. Verizon is consistently the only carrier that supports hands-free legislation that requires the use of a headset or speakerphone for drivers.


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Mischief to Watch out For

  • Increasingly late off-peak hours (Verizon changed from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. on October 15th, 2002, now all the carriers are 9 p.m.) 


  • Legal Holidays charged at peak rates (Cingular, Sprint, T-Mobile)

  • NON-grand-fathering of plans when a carrier is sold (not much you can do about this)

  • 6 month promotional contract turning into a 1 year contract upon expiration

  • Flat fee contract termination charge, no more prorating

  • No number portability (this will soon be required by law, despite the efforts of the carriers to stop it)

  • Rip-off (10X landline cost) international calling rates and international roaming 

  • Very high per minute rates when you exceed your monthly minutes 

  • Poor quality aftermarket accessories sold in carrier's company stores at high prices

  • No technicians at stores, no phone upgrade support

  • $50 deductible and used phones for insurance replacement

  • Overselling service in a network with capacity problems

  • Overpriced and inaccurate 411 info number lookup (Sprint and AT&T recently raised their fees for this even higher)

  • Contracts that allow the carriers to change their terms anytime

  • Coverage area contradictions, i.e. AT&T's on-network nationwide plan has areas that require off-network roaming charges, while the same areas are included at no extra charge on regional and local plans

  • Decreasing coverage area after you sign a contract

  • Charges to check your monthly usage (Sprint)

  • Hiding rate plans or not publishing them on the web site at all

  • Removing services from the base rate and then selling them at extra cost (Verizon briefly tried to sell "enhanced voice mail" for an extra $2).

  • High non-governmental fees that are ostensibly added to cover the cost of complying with government regulations. Verizon and T-Mobile, to their credit, have declined to add these fees so far.

Also see:


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Salesperson's Non-Answers to Customer's Questions

How can a salesperson answer questions without lying but without actually stating the facts? They are trained to do exactly this.


Customer Question Non-Answer
Will my phone work in XYZ area? No carrier provides 100% coverage (if customer should inquire as to which carrier has the best coverage under 100% then tell them that the store is closing).
Will my phone work out of the urban and suburban area? In these areas you are better off without the annoyance of a wireless phone. Some of my friends actually don't bring their phones with them when they leave their home area to eliminate the intrusion (do not bring up the fact that all handsets can be turned off).
Will my phone work along major freeways outside of metropolitan areas? I am worried about being able to summon assistance in case of emergency or a breakdown. Every carrier has areas with no coverage. Do not rely on a wireless phone to summon help in emergencies. There are emergency call boxes along major highways which can be used to summon assistance (do not disclose that these call boxes use AMPS because we don't offer phones with AMPS). 

Consider studying to become an amateur radio operator, and once you pass the exams, buy a portable transceiver. Alternatively, buy y a citizens band radio and a CD with "Convoy."  Don't be concerned about broadcasting the fact that you're alone and broken down (and your location) to anyone that happens to be listening.

Can I roam onto other networks which use the same technology as yours? Roaming is for buffalo (the Virgin Web site actually says this). You can still use your phone to call 911 in these areas.

"Q. Does Virgin Mobile coverage include roaming? 

A. Roaming is for buffalo. All our services are supported by 100% digital coverage. No roaming means no roaming charges, so you pay the same rate for all calls."

My friend got GSM service from your company and it sucks, but my AB&C service is great. Why is that? A. This may be true at the present time, but AB&C is migrating to the same technology as us, so soon their coverage will be just like ours (a Cingular salesperson actually said this to me).

B. AB&C has been around a lot longer than we have and has a lot more cells, but we are adding more cells to increase our coverage.

Will my phone work inside big buildings? I heard that your technology doesn't work as well indoors as that from some other carriers. The number and location of cell sites is much more of a factor than the difference in technology.
I read in Consumer Reports that I should always get a phone that is capable of both digital and analog service because analog service is available in places where digital service is not. Does your company offer handsets like this? Consumer Reports is a commie-pinko rag written by known liberal left wing, one-world, egg-headed, bleeding heart, commie, Viet-Cong sympathizin', bed wetting, Democrats. Don't pay any attention to anything they say.
How come these phones work fine inside the mall but 1/20th of a mile away I get "no service"? A. There must be something wrong with your handset. Let me reprogram it.

B. We are adding new cells all the time.

C. It's your handest. Here, let me give you a new one for free and extend your contract for two years.

I saw that your company had a huge number of complaints with the public utilities commission. Why is this? This is because we printed their telephone number too prominently on our customer's bills (Cingular actually said this).


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Bottom Line on Fraudulent or Misleading Advertising & Marketing
Evaluate marketing and advertising claims very carefully, and learn to look for implicature. Read the contract carefully. Check coverage areas carefully. Choose a carrier that has excellent coverage in your home area and areas you frequent the most. But also pay attention to areas to which you travel only occasionally, and pay close attention to the areas you travel through as well. Come up with your own criteria for coverage, and apply it to your potential carrier.  

I.e. for me the criteria for coverage outside my home area is ďCan I talk in Talkeetna and can I yap in Yosemite & Yellowstone?Ē

  •  AT&T TDMA/AMPS: Yes

  • AT&T GSM: No

  • Cingular TDMA/AMPS: Yes

  • Cingular GSM: No

  • Nextel iDEN: No

  • Sprint PCS CDMA/AMPS: Yes

  • T-Mobile GSM: No

  • Verizon CDMA/AMPS: Yes

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