back to article ASA slaps down Vodafone 'unlimited' data claims

Vodafone has today been ordered to withdraw an advert for one of its data packages which falsely implied customers could get unlimited mobile web access. The ad copy bellowed: "Any website, any time. £7.50 a month. Make the most of now." The small print whispered that a usage limit of 120MB per month applies. Vodafone argued …


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  1. Mark

    How hard can it be?

    "Internet access 120MB per month for only £7.50!".

    Why put it in terms of bandwidth? In any way you take it, it's limited. Bandwidth? limited by signalling speed possible. Time on line? Well, you can't get that bandwidth for all the month, so it's limited (and in any case, they're completely on the ball with limited minutes on a phone call).

  2. Tom Watson

    VodafoneFacebook Ads

    The current vodafone Facebook access ads are explicit in their use of the term 'unlimited'

    With a caveat tucked away at the bottom of '*subject to a fair usage policy of 500MB / per month'.

    Whilst 500MB/month is a generous amount, it is not unlimited. Am I just being pedantic or should this ad not also be disallowed?

  3. John F


    I'd side with Vodafone on that one, while the ASA does nothing about all the truly false "unlimited" claims...? Crazy.

  4. Terry Ellis

    I got a text message...

    ...from Vodophone on the 21st May saying that my "monthly data allowance is now unlimited... fair use applies".

    I did think that the 120mb was pretty low, given that a number of websites take well over 500k to load up in full.

    Still, I think it's a scandal that they are allowed to abuse the word 'unlimited' as they do. I think most people would accept useage limits if they were made plain and not dressed up.

  5. Anonymous Coward


    I don't get it.

    If you use words that mighty possibly imply to some people that a restricted service is unlimited is bad.

    However, if like many ISPs, you claim that a restricted service is unlimited by actually using the word "UNLIMITED" often in large, bright letters, that's okay?


    I appreciate the ASA going after false unlimited claims, but haven't they picked the wrong target here?

  6. mark peters

    how on earth...

    are they STILL allowing these unlimited claims.

    It's not unlimited, it's limited. It's a LIE, plain and simple.

    I really do not understand why this dodgy practice hasn't been banned yet!

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @VodafoneFacebook Ads

    Saw one of these yesterday, and while it wouldn't affect me since I'm not a teenage girl and thus don't use social notworking sites, I assumed that the "unlimited facebook" meant that access facebook was excluded from any other restrictions. I certainly didn't see any "fair usage small print" as I drove past!

  8. Pete
    Thumb Down

    Why even use the U word?

    I had a brief email argument with 3 C/S (hitting head on wall), where I quoted the dictionary definition of unlimited. Well it made me feel better.

  9. Anigel

    simplicity itself

    Unlimited = without limits.

    Any form of limiting be it a cap on the amount of data, time or bandwidth you can use is a limit.

    limited != unlimited ergo the ASA are about as much use as most other agencies in this country and should either shape up or shut down.

    Mine's the one dreaming of singing "leaving on a jet plane, dunno when I'll be back again"

  10. Darren7160

    We need to take back that English language

    I am tired to politicians and advertisers (yes, I am an American as per my spelling). We need to take back our language, where words have a common and well established meaning.

    I read the ad and if I were asked, I would have said, that "any" means each and every one available or at whatever time or duration I chose. I would not have interpreted it as meaning a small portion.

    My ex wife considers me a pessimist, I consider myself a skeptic. When I ask the kids to tell me who is more accurate in their prediction of the probability of being screwed by a politician or an advertisement, their opinion is that my view point is more in touch with reality.

    Nothing is free and no one gives anyone "any"thing for nothing. Now if I can just get interwebs access to a nice secluded hermit's cabin in the mountains I would be set.

  11. Jamie


    That is exaclty it, saying unlimited first of all means that it is infinite, there are no ends. If you purchase a mobile phone that states unlimited long distance calls for 50£ per month and when your first bill arrives the bill is 150£ due to long distance charges you are going to be pissed.

    I am more willing to go to a provider who will tell me the truth when I purchase rather than lie to try and get a new contract.

    BT tried to sell me an unlimited calls to Canada each month, and until I queried them about it they never mentioned that there is a reasonable usage clause. Yeah I know common sense would tell you to query it but the problem is most people in this world (let alone this country) don't know what common sense is.

  12. Ben Rose

    Not even double..

    I was paying £7.50/mth for 300MB of data traffic per month as part of my mobile contract. Compared to their usual PAYG charge of something like £1.50 per MB this is pretty good value.

    I got the "unlimited" sms message that linked to the fair use policy.

    So I got from 300MB to an "unlimited" 500MB plan.

    They may as well have just told me my data plan had increased from 300MB to 500MB, I'd have been a happy punter.

  13. Geoff Mackenzie

    Weird, I also agree with Vodafone this time

    If they'd said all websites, all the time it would have been misleading. If they'd suggested the web access was unlimited, that would have been misleading. But as far as I can see all they suggested was that, with their service, I could at a time of my choice access a website of my choice.

    Unless I'm much mistaken their service would provide me with exactly that facility.

  14. James Bassett
    Paris Hilton

    We know a little more

    So, previously, many of us (gullible as we are) believed that the word "Unlimited" meant that something was without limit (oh how I laugh when I think back to how naive we once were).

    Then, the mobile phone companies and broadband providers corrected our terrible misconception. We eventually came to realise that "Unlimited" was actually somewhere below 2GB (TMobile's Web'n'walk). So we knew a little more, but we did not yet posses the full picture.

    Now, thanks to those kind people at the ASA, we can say with absolute certainty that, for today, Unlimited is somewhere over 120MB whilst, presumably, remaining below 2GB (unless that has changed).

    Am I expecting too much to believe that, one day, our gracious masters may grant us mere customers, us plebs who simply pay the bills, the knowledge of EXACTLY how much unlimited is?

    Paris, because her talents are unlimited.

  15. Nigel

    My sympathies with Vodafone too

    A bit harsh, methinks, although they asked for it using too-small small print. Why not just say "Any website, any time. 120 Megabytes for £7.50 a month. Make the most of now. " (or even "What more do you want? ")

    Now I've heard the offer, I'm quite interested. No such thing as bad publicity?

    Tux, because Vodafone actually offer some Linux support for their dongles.

  16. Edward Pearson
    Thumb Down

    This is VERY simple.

    You have sold me an internet connection.

    Is there a limit? Yes

    Therefore is it unlimited? No.

    I fail to see how this is open to interpretation. Surely this is a matter to be dealt with through the Trades description act? Can somebody explain to me why these people appear immune from prosecution?

    A company I used to work for was hauled up for a labeling a feature on one of our tariffs in a "misleading fashion". We were taken to court, lost and made to pay restitution to our customer base. This is the way it should be.

  17. alistair millington
    Thumb Up

    Its funny

    120 MB is pants, T mobile do 1GB for the same price.

    Ofcom and voluntary sums up the state we are in, the whim of execs that bow down to those that offer cash (Like the music industry), but not those that are meant to protect us.

  18. RichyS
    Paris Hilton

    When 'unlimited' is 'unlimited'. Sort of...

    Well, the unlimted issue all really comes down to semantics. Obviously Vodafone (and, indeed, all the fixed and mobile operators) do not themselves have access to unlimted bandwidth, so, by definition, their customers cannot either. So, strictly speaking, no-one has access to unlimited bandwidth.

    In my view, it is fair enough to describe access to the Internet as 'unlimted' if there are no 'hard' limits to usage. Unlimited means so much more than just 'bandwidth' too. For instance, most operators data packages initially restricted users to the operators' own 'walled gardens'. So, a data package that allowed unlimited access to the Internet could be viewed as a package that allows access to all web sites/email servers/VoIP etc. 'withput limitation'.

    Now, for me, they key issue is with the Fair Use Policies. Do these create hard limits? If Voda's billing systems start charging you the moment you use more than 120MB a month, then this cannot be described as 'unlimited'. If, however, they simply warn you (e.g. via SMS) if you go over 120MB in a month; and only then start charging or take away your data package if you consistently go over this limit; well, that's sort of fair enough. Remember, Voda etc. do not have unlimited bandwidth, so if some users are tkaing the piss, it reduces speed/availability to other customers under normal use.

    The question you have to ask yourself as a user is 'is the FUP limit sufficient for my normal use?'. If it is, then the usage is effectively --for you -- unlimted. In my view, 120MB is too low. 1GB for a month of mobile use for me is probably fine.

    Paris, 'cos she's responsible for a fair amount of bandwidth usage...

  19. Mark

    Re: Amazing

    So the ONLY option to remove these false claims is to prosecute ALL of them at exactly the same time?

  20. Sordid Details

    The ASA is bonkers

    "Any web site" just says their DNS servers are working properly. How does the ASA managed to find "unlimited" in there and have the temerity to rule on it? Meanwhile the broadband ISPs are able to advertise unlimited services which quite clearly aren't.

    Is it just me, or is there something really not right here?

  21. This post has been deleted by its author

  22. Andy

    My package is 500MB for that price -

    - although maybe 120MB is PAYG or something? Anyway, advertising limited services as "unlimited" is pretty disgusting, despite the fact that on anything but 3G you'll be lucky to use half of that in a month even if you're using it 24/7... At least it's a public limit, though, rather than a private "fair usage policy" which could be anything they like.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Dead Vulture

    all the adverts are complete bollocks

    i mean - how can 'unlimited' be limited to 'fair usage' - that limited hence not unlimited - come on ofcom, get off your asses and do something for a change.

    still thats marketing for you... those that can do it - those that cannot go into marketing.

    bit like apple really - triumph of style of over everything else.

  24. david

    @ Tom Watson

    Nope your not being pedantic - as the power of handsets grows so does the need for data. No good having HTC or iPhone if you only get a kilobytes.

    Unlimited should mean exactly that in 2 years we will be scoffing at 500mb a month. These so called fair usage terms are infact opaque contradictions to the adversited. I for one will support every move to force the word unlimited to be mutually exclusive to the phrase Subject to fair use. The only way your handset should be limted is if you provider thinks you've been compromised (say by a virus)

  25. Anonymous Coward

    I think....

    ....anyone in marketing at Voda, o2 orange or T-Mob who aprroves an "unlimited" line in their ads should be beaten by a customer with their choice of an Oxford Dictionary or a big rubber dildo (ala Harry the Hatchet).

    Mines the one with the massive cock in the pocket.

  26. Edward Rose

    Have to back voda on this one.

    Well, loath to say it but vodafone are right.

    Mind you, any usage limit should (IMHO by law/rules) need to be clearly stated on an advert. Although people would interprit it as unlimited it is their own poor understanding of English. Anytime does not, and should never, imply all the time.

    As for all the unlimited adverts out there. Why? How? When is ASA going to ban these?

    ASA should make a clear rule about visibility of limits on an advert and start fining very heavily for words like 'unlimited'. The money could go to educating people (adults and kids alike) to always scour the small print. In fact, it could go towards any public infommercial.

  27. Daniel Voyce
    Thumb Down


    Not sure which provider it is thats advertising it but there is one that offers unlimited internet (Fair use of 500MB), I have an unlimited tarrif on t-mobile that has a fair usage policy of around 1GB (Plenty for what I need), however my last months usage (mainly of YouTube) was up to 600MB, and that was just using it in the mornings on the way to work.

    Unlimited should mean unlimited - not limited (as surely the name implies?).

  28. Anonymous Coward

    Unlimited direct debit

    I wonder how the mobile operators would feel if we offered them unlimited access to our bank accounts once a month*

    *subject to a fair use policy of 120 pence/month.

    Is there a legal definition of the word unlimited in UK law? I fancy download lots of (linux ISO) torrents over my mobile and telling my mobile company to take a hike ;-)

  29. Anonymous Coward

    Interpretation, big V!

    'Vodafone argued against a complaint made to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), saying that the word "any" meant "some, or even the smallest amount of".'

    The way I understand it big V, it's not the meaning you attempted, it's the perception and interpretation that the viewer may have of the advert, that the ASA are more interested in, can't believe you even thought that argument would stand a chance!

    ( Mines the one with "Sad Pedant - Getting a life!" on the back! )

  30. Danny


    Are O2 going to be slapped as well. I have an 'unlimited' web bolt on that only gives me 200MB per month :(

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Unlimited 'Unlimited' Limited - It's a Start ,at Least.

    It seems to me that the various Sales and Marketing people involved in these campaigns have ethics similar to those exposed in recent TV quiz show scandals.

    How can 'Unlimited' become limited in the small print? How can 'Any Website' become a small selection, except via cunning sophistry?

    I think the people involved should be removed from this kind of work .(Sacked?)

    It would be nice to understand what went on in their early lives, so that their compass of moral behaviour was tossed cynically overboard.

    I am one of thousands that work with integrity in this industry and not a million miles from this company, which is why I would like my I.D. concealed.

  32. Fihart

    Time to really Regulate the b*starrds

    The mobile phone industry has the moral standards of a lap dancing parlour.

    The Vodaphone facebook ads are aimed straight at teenagers' social insecurity -- don't be left out, waste money with us. The slogans say it all -- make the most of now=live now pay later.

    I treat my £10 PAYG phone with the same cynicism as the providers. Use it only when its unique facilities make sense. Such as when out of the house and expecting an urgent message or with a group and likely to get separated -- or when meeting someone from a train etc. Costs about £20 a year.

    My neighbour has a "free" (£200) luxury phone and spends about £40 a month with her provider, frequently calling my landline on her mobile when I would simply have rung the doorbell.

    The fact that the phone companies thrive on confusing their customers with "free" phones and complex billing systems isn't enough for the regulators -- so let's at least cane them when they are caught in a outright lie. But in the long run they need to be de-constructed (separating hardware sales from service supply) and transparent billing systems forced upon them.

  33. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Facebook Ads

    Note that the ASA does not cover internet advertising - I discovered this myself when I made a complaint about a BT ad (on TV and web) and they sent me a lovely letter telling me they weren't going to look into it because it involved the internet.

    That was only one example of the same text being used.

    They are utterly useless in today's environment.

    Struggling to find the *head exploding* icon.

  34. Ben Mathews

    We might have more success...

    getting the dictionary writers to change the meaning of the word 'unlimited'.

    At least then we'll know that if something is advertised as unlimited it's going to be limited.

  35. Tim Brown

    Nothing new

    Advertisers have so corrupted the usage of language that we might as well abolish the toothless ASA and just remind everyone 'caveat emptor'.

    Never buy anything without doing your own research.

    Anyone want a pizza with 'free' delivery (£2 discount if you collect)?

  36. peter

    pizza with 'free' delivery - Other examples include....

    Item X for only 99p (plus £12.50 delivery and no you can't collect)

    £60 fine (£30 if you don't dispute it)

    Internet for only £9.99 (for the first 3 months, then 19.99 on 18 month contract)

  37. Andrew Garrard
    Paris Hilton

    Me too

    I, too, recently got told that my "unlimited" 250MB/month plan with Vodafone was "now unlimited" (at 500MB/month). Fascinating, but as soon as my contract expires (had to go with Voda to get a phone subsidy) I'm still jumping to T-Mobile, whose "unlimited" is 1GB for the same cost.

    At least I know to read the small print. What annoys me is that the shop staff don't. I jumped between various phone stores before choosing the contract on which to order my current phone, and in several places I got very blank looks when I asked what the limit on "unlimited use" was. I'm in the club that would be quite happy to pick a contract based on a predicted data use, but having to dig so hard to find it out is annoying; the term "unlimited" is offensive. The concept that I couldn't possibly hit 250MB in a month ("because you're not using the 'real' internet, sir" - hmm, let me show you my browser options and the reason for my choice of phone) is particularly silly; I don't, but only because I try not to.

    Paris, because it's traditional.

  38. Anonymous Coward

    Agree with Vodafone on the advert

    Any website, any time to me simply means that I can view any website I feel like having a look at, any time of the day that I feel like doing it.

    I am also a realist, and happen to read the smallprint on adverts. If someone is stupid enough to sign up for something without reading the (for want of a better description) small print attached to it, then they really are too thick to be allowed the pen which they used to sign up for it in the first place.

    The ASA should start looking more at the "UNLIMITED" word, than at something which could possibly be misconstrued, when viewed from a 37 degree angle in a poor light, whilst hanging upside down from a tree, eating a pair of socks and singing the National Anthem and puntuating the verses with loud belches. Everything that gets written down, everything that gets said, everything you know, could be mis-interpreted by someone else, so I'm sure that what is written above will be mis-interpreted by someone, and the flames may well be out.

    Mines the flame retardant one with the scorch marks on the sleeve. Now where did I put my phone........

  39. RW

    @ Mat Stace

    "Is there a legal definition of the word unlimited in UK law?"

    Don't know about the UK, but Canadian law, which fairly closely resembles English law, would probably use an ordinary dictionary since the word is not part of a legislative enactment.

    In the case of legislative enactments, there are several levels of reference for defining words used in them. Here in British Columbia, it's first any definitions in the relevant act; second, the provincial "Interpretation Act"; third, Black's Law Dictionary (at least, that's what the lawyers at work always resorted to); and fourth, an ordinary dictionary, usually the Shorter Oxford.

    This does not preclude Advertising Standards from stipulating a definition, but if that definition conflicts with the ordinary meaning of the word, they'd probably be out in left field.

    The great American president, Abraham Lincoln, once asked his cabinet "if a dog's tail is a leg, how many legs does a dog have?" They one and all responded (or so the story goes) "Five, of course." To which the great man replied "No, four. Calling a tail a leg doesn't make it a leg."

    I leave it as a homework exercise to connect this (possibly apocryphal) anecdote to the subject at hand.

  40. Michael

    Vodafone got hosed on this one.

    I agree that unlimited is unlimited, but this ad never said it was unlimited.

    This ad said you could access any website, any time, which is true. It's also true that with a payg plan, you could also access any website, any time. Advertising constant availability is not the same thing as advertising constant usage.

  41. pctechxp

    All down ro interpretation

    Just to play Devil's advocate for a minute.

    Use of Unlimited when referring to mobile broadband (quite different fron the fixed situation) could be used to indicate that Voda have good 3G data coverage (I don't work for them and I use O2 for a phone service so don't know) so it is not llimited by location, his is of course not true with fixed broadband unless you have a bloody long wire :)

    However, in both cases people have got to stop whining about the fair usage policies, c'mon folks if they didn't exist and weren't enforce the networks (fixed and mobile) would get slower and then grind to a halt because of the bandwidth running out due to people taking the piss and then you'd be moaning about that too.

    Or wait you couldn'tas you might not be able to get to El Reg.

    Stop bloody whinging and get a life!

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