/ Technology

Had enough of ‘up to’ and ‘unlimited’ advertising claims?

We’ve heard many tales of how broadband speeds and mobile usage don’t come anywhere near what’s advertised. Is this fair? No – but there could soon be rules in place to stop misleading advertising in its tracks.

I can see that adverts are a difficult balance to strike for telecommunications companies. After all, advertising something like a broadband service isn’t like advertising a new pair of trainers – it’s so much more complicated.

And yes, there’s only a certain amount of information you can get into one ad, but there’s still a lot more that could be done to make things clearer.

New telecommunications advertising rules

And it seems that the people who regulate advertising agree. Last week the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) (which is responsible for writing the advertising codes in the UK) launched a consultation. It’s looking at proposals for new advertising guidance on the use of ‘up to’ broadband speeds and ‘unlimited’ usage claims in telecommunications advertising.

At the moment the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) allows companies to quote the theoretical maximum speed a service could provide, but only on the condition they make it clear to consumers that they’re not guaranteed to actually get this speed. One of the methods required is to qualify the speed with the phrase ‘up to’. But increasingly it seems to be agreed this doesn’t go far enough.

Proposals for future speed claims in broadband ads include only being allowed to quote speeds that are available to 10%, or even 50%, of users. Or to allow companies to advertise the theoretical maximum only if it’s accompanied by an indication of the typical performance you’d actually be likely to receive.

What rules should be introduced?

The use of the word ‘unlimited’ in any telecommunications advertising rarely means what it says on the tin. These types of deals are generally subject to some sort of fair usage policy (FUP) by the provider, whether it’s a broadband or mobile phone deal. At the moment the ASA lets advertisers call these packages ‘unlimited’ as long as the existence of the FUP is stated in the ad.

But new options suggested by the current consultation include making unlimited claims unacceptable for services that have a FUP that will either charge you extra for going over a certain limit, or suspend your service. Or it could go as far as discouraging advertisers from describing services with any sort of FUP as ‘unlimited’.

Now these changes are only possible proposals at the moment. We’ll be formally responding to the CAP consultations, but what you do think about the measures that are proposed? Do they go far enough? And do you feel you’ve been misled by an ad before?

I know I have much more respect for a company that’s honest with me in their advertising. When will they realise that luring customers in with claims that just aren’t true leads to higher expectations and more unhappy customers. It’s hardly rocket science!


The problem with broadband speeds is that , ignoring cable, all ISPs are equal in that the max speed available is limited by the quality of the connection between home and exchange.
However the actual speed available in peak times is down to how much bandwidth the ISPs provide and this is their major cost.
So changing from one of the major cheap ISPs to a smaller slightly more expensive one can make a large difference in the peak time speed obtained even though the max available speed will not be any different.
How you measure and report this real peak time speed simply I do not know .

Brendan Johnson says:
4 February 2011

…….. and yet Head & Shoulders can say their shampoo can make you ‘up to 100% flake free’.

In English, this means ‘ Our Product will work, how much we have no idea’!!

Robert says:
7 October 2011

What does “up to” mean in advertising?

It is clearly not what is meant in common English (ie the maximum possible), as frequently sales offering reductions “up to 50%” (or whatever) have reductions of more than that amount.

Fundamentally, these statements are flawed as they give no indication of what the average reduction is, or how much is reduced by this amount.

It is about time that the Consumers’ Association pushed the Advertising Standards Authority to make claims such as ‘up to’ illegal in advertising.

What the consumer needs to know is the MINIMUM time their phone or other battery-operated appliance will run for, or how SLOW their broadband connection could be. Anything better is a bonus.

Car manufacturers used to get away with quoting rather optimistic fuel economy figures. They are now required to publish more realistic figures.

Until misleading advertising is banned, we should name and shame the worst offenders.

Mitch. says:
5 February 2011

“Up to” is acceptable as long as it is clearly advertised alongside the package speed.

Though you should be quoted with maximum, average and minimum speeds for your area when checking your postcode; and you should be encouraged to do so.

It also needs to be made clear, in simple terms to users that the service advertised is for bits and not bytes, for those who are not tech savvy.

“Unlimited” however needs a far stricter set of rules, if the service is subject to fair usage it is not unlimited.

“Partially Limited – Click for more info”
“Limited – xxGB”

Virgin’s adverts about being the fastest are really getting on my nerves at the moment.

We have their ‘up to 10Mbps’ per second. Working from home today I measured the speed around lunchtime: 3.15. About 20 mins ago: 0.58!!!

Ridiculous! I don’t expect them to do anything, but I have written to them to whinge at them. Our area is notoriously bad – and it’s cable. We can’t have a dish, so not sure what to do when our contract is up.

I use Virgin Media 10 Mbs – and usually get 8.9 to 9.7 – (I measure it regularly) so I am happy with them. The only time I have had ‘trouble’ is connecting to slow servers at the other end.

This is in contrast to BT that was so bad the connection was dropped so often that several people refused to allow me to communicate with them.via the Internet,

So three cheers for Virgin Media! 🙂

White-Rose says:
11 February 2012

I posted this comment below in a slightly different form elsewhere on this site but it is relevant here too. It is a matter of Giffgaff or rather O2′s ethics if they like to build up a business sub-sector and new customer base founded on false advertising of unlimited data and then change their terms and conditions which in actual print encourages people to use streaming media on phones with this offer. Many dishonourable companies are employing these dishonest tactics and we are used to them. Just like a new local takeaway that raises their prices against initial promises after building up a client base after a while. The only thing I object to is O2′s tactic of scaring the majority by the threat of closing the offer and out of greed and fear to turn and set them on what they call the 1% who are breaking the rules.

All three of which are disinformation too as 1) there are no limits in their T&C on data usage and they encourage streaming video on phones, so the only illegal process is their own false advertising. 2) They already cut people off if a certain rate is crossed in a short period by a system procedure and then they claim it was tethered which has no relation to the data rate threshold monitor. So their claim that they intend to bring this in is also a falsehood. 3) It is not the 1% but more that need cleansing and they are asking for a license to secretly cut off a large minority in stages based on this immorally gained mandate.

These are the same exact tactics that have been going on since ancient culls to middle ages’ pogroms to fascist techniques. This distasteful method of propaganda is my only objection as I have never witnessed a company to behave in this way as O2 is doing and the data on reaction of the majorty of conditioned posters in that forum thread is an amazing resource for empirical analysis by any academic that might be interested in such a rare study case.

Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892-1984):
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out. Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out. Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out. Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”

Graham says:
3 March 2012

T-Mobile recently sold me an “unlimited” internet deal with my phone. 2 days later I have apparently exceeded my unlimited allowance. I don’t download videos or stream TV but for the next 28 days I have restricted access. What is particularly bad about T-Mobile is that the limit on their unlimited accounts is half that typically offered by competitors who set a limit. I fail to see how this con trick could ever stand up in a court.
Just to add to the fun they can’t tell me how much I’ve used or when I used it (I’ve hardly used the phone away from my WiFi.) They say I can download an app which will tell me but that it won’t agree with their monitors so they can’t discuss the results. I feel as if I’m living in a novel by Kafka.

The ASA Are weak,

As no one gets in trouble for false & unlawful use of the word unlimited & Not one Uk company offering real,true,legal, unlimited deals/packages,

Although some companies like GiffGaff.Co.Uk do get very close with there 30 day goody bags that offer unlimited packages/deals,


T-Mobile/Orange Mobile/Everything Everywhere Ltd/EE Are also claiming & hoping to offer real unlimited 12,18,24, monthly contracts, (But this is to be seen still & Not offering for pay as you go either).

Watchdog’s need more power to remove the word unlimited from all forms advertisement’s, If they can’t offer real,true,legal, unlimited deals & packages,


Those who can’t offer unlimited deals & packages, Should BOTH Be FINED & Made to add capped,limited, fair usage policy/policies apply in BIG Words, Just like when they did with not so real unlimited deals or packages in there previous adverts/advertisements :/ 🙁