/ 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”


The CAP consultations on ‘up to’ and ‘unlimited’ claims in advertising closed last Friday. I think this is a really important step on the way to putting an end to misleading advertising for phone and broadband services for good.

Don’t worry we’ll be continuing to keep a close eye on all developments and on the outcome of the review.

You can find out how we think providers should be allowed to advertised – there’s more details on the Which? response to the consultation here:



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! 🙂