AT&T moves in on Verizon's 'most reliable network' claim

AT&T tacks on another claim in its latest advertisement, this time one near and dear to Verizon.

Roger Cheng Former Executive Editor / Head of News
Roger Cheng (he/him/his) was the executive editor in charge of CNET News, managing everything from daily breaking news to in-depth investigative packages. Prior to this, he was on the telecommunications beat and wrote for Dow Jones Newswires and The Wall Street Journal for nearly a decade and got his start writing and laying out pages at a local paper in Southern California. He's a devoted Trojan alum and thinks sleep is the perfect -- if unattainable -- hobby for a parent.
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Roger Cheng
2 min read

AT&T is looking to nudge Verizon Wireless off its perch.

The Dallas company's latest advertisement touts not only the nation's fastest network, but also "the most reliable."

The advertisement represents more than the usual boisterous rhetoric and cuts at the heart of what has been the key advantage for Verizon: the dependability of its network. While AT&T spent years dealing with dropped calls and the inability to handle the wireless data traffic from the iPhones on its network, Verizon carefully cultivated and shored up its reputation as the gold-standard network.

As a result of its reputation, Verizon has been able to command a higher premium for its service, and in the last few quarters continued to show customer growth even as the industry saw a slowdown.

AT&T is looking to poke some holes in Verizon's superiority. The company cited the recent study of a third-party firm, which it declined to name. Inline with industry practice, AT&T purchased the results of the study, which was conducted independently. The claim was based on just the 4G LTE network, which deals with the delivery of data, and likely doesn't include phone calls and text messages that are delivered over the older 3G networks.

A Verizon representative declined to take the bait, but did offer a response: "AT&T can make up whatever claim they want. We'll let consumers make the ultimate decision."

A number of different studies already found that AT&T offers the fastest connection on its 4G LTE service.

The ad can be seen as a bit of delayed revenge after Verizon launched a set of sharp-hitting commercials back in 2009, when it claimed 3G network superiority over AT&T. The campaign led to an ugly spat that resulted in a lawsuit filed by AT&T and a series of commercials starring Luke Wilson that countered Verizon's claim.

At the time, AT&T was vulnerable because its network had performed poorly under the stress of the iPhone. (It was still the exclusive provider of the device.) The company has come a long way from its past struggles with its network quality. While not perfect by any stretch, it has made significant improvement.

Verizon, meanwhile, still has a far wider footprint when it comes to 4G LTE, and can still boast the most markets among the national carriers. While it had long lost out on its claim as the nation's fastest network to AT&T, it previously still insisted that it was the most reliable.

Verizon could still fire back with some marketing rhetoric of its own. But for now, AT&T's the one making the noise.

Updated at 12:27 p.m. PT: to include a response from Verizon Wireless.