"up to"

Why the public seem not to understand this simple term is beyond me, but it seems to be the case.

The technology for DSL allows speeds that adapt to the line conditions and so you will get a speed depending on line length and quality. The technology itself has different types, so ADSL1 could get up to 8128Kb/s sync which 7.15Mb/s IP rate roughly when allowing for various overheads in the protocols. ADSL2+ gets you up to around 20 to 21Mb/s IP rate at maximum sync possible. FTTC is higher still.

So, obviously, ISPs advertised services as "up to 20Mb/s". The full rate is possible, but you have to be pretty close to the exchange. Typically people get lower rates.

The problem is that for some reason people felt cheated if their line only gets 6Mb/s, for example. Some how people read "up to 20Mb/s" as "at least 20Mb/s" when it means the opposite. In fact if I bought an "up to 20Mb/s" service and got 21Mb/s then that would be false advertising!

So OFCOM have started asking ISPs not to say "up to 20Mb/s". You will note the A&A site says things like "sync rates of not more than 24Mb/s" for ADSL2+. I.e. saying "not more than" instead of "up to", even though clearly the same meaning. Also, as our pricing is not based on speed this is buried in the detail of the specific service and we have a page explaining overheads and so on.

Of course, like all ISPs, if you put a postcode or line number on the web site we tell you a fairly realistic estimate of speeds based on BT line checker data. OFCOMs code of practice is however totally crazy as I think I have ranted before.

What I just spotted today was a TV advert for broadband from our favourite telco. They have been just as sneaky by saying "we give you a personalised speed estimate, up to 20meg". So they are still saying "up to 20Mb/s" just saying that the personalised speed estimate will tell you a speed up to 20Mb/s not that the line will go up to 20Mb/s.

If the public felt misled before I cannot see how this subtle change really makes any difference, and I have to wonder how much time and effort (i.e. taxpayer's money) went on this.

Oh well.


  1. Basically because some people are stupid. These are the people who as children asked for something and were told "we'll see..." and took that as a yes.

  2. It's just as much of a mess as "unlimited*".

    People don't even know what this stuff means so they're not buying on a spec: they're using it for comparison between offerings. I'm sure there's a much more useful metric that could be used to do that.

  3. Indeed, but as an ISP most of our selling points are attitude and ethos not a number you can compare! Very hard to "sell" that sadly.

  4. Sorry, but my favourite is "Our fastest ever home-hub, yet" - and this helps improve my internet, how? it's also "interference-dodging", I'm relatively sure it still runs on the same 2.4 frequencies as they always did, otherwise no computers would connect to it, and maybe they've written some un-clever software that scans around and picks a channel that isn't near as much, but, again I don't really see how that's going to improve the condition of the internet, so maybe actually what they're trying to sell is just a Router....

  5. As technical people we understand what's going on however, most 'normals' don't look at the 'up to' at all they look at the big red splat with 72 point text saying 24Mb/s not the 14 point text saying 'you wont actually get this, much like that unlimited crap we managed to pull off'

    And yes, every ad that BT show is just lies, why are they still allowed to get away with this suff. Probably has more to do with OFCOM being a waste of space.

  6. Sorry to comment to such an old post but I just discovered your blog.

    The infuriating part for me is that while speed estimates quoted as "up to". Pricing is always quoted as "Prices from.."

    So the bottom line is, you'll get less than the speed we're quoting and you'll probably pay more than the price we're qouting.

    1. I think your comments may show some of the problem. You seem to feel aggrieved at getting a lower speed than the figure quoted in an "up to X" statement. This is what is wrong. If you are quoted "up to 20Mb/s", that means "we can be absolutely sure it will not be more than 20Mb/s but could be any speed less than that". You should only feel wronged if the speed you get is more than 20Mb/s in that case, as that means the original statement was wrong.

      Given that the speed quoted is "up to X", meaning "anything from ZERO to X", it is not "get less than the speed we're quoting". You are complaining that you are getting "less than less than X" in effect which makes no sense.

      Note having a go at you, obviously, but this is the problem - somehow the message is lost - somehow the facts the ISP wants to convey are lost and people feel that something else has been quoted. It is a failing in the English used, and the understanding of the technology and the message conveyed.

      What it absolutely is not a failure of is the figure, yet the ASA's action is simply to adjust the figure itself a bit which does not tackle the actual problem at all.


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