back to article 'Unlimited' ads are dumb and misleading, says 3

3's UK boss Kevin Russell UK has called for an overhaul of mobile broadband marketing, particularly misleading "unlimited" allowances. He included 3 in the rogues' gallery, and explained that because the big boys were doing it, 3 had felt obliged to copy them. It now regretted doing so. "As an industry our marketing standards …


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  1. hahnchen

    They should be fined, there claims were worse than just "dumb"

    3 was the worst. Not only did they advertised "unlimited" data, they actually halved their data limit to 500Mb a few months ago, but continued to mislead with their unlimited branding.

    Your article mentions that they are doubling their data limits. But it is merely returning them to the level they were originally. It's a farce.

    How is this legal?

  2. Chris Hatfield
    Thumb Up

    Excellent!! Welcome news

    It's like saying you can come to all all-you-can-eat unlimited* buffet, for only £5!!

    *unlimited - you may not have more than one plate of food.

    It's big of him to admit he was , well , lying (being deceptive).

  3. Anonymous Coward

    Treated like children

    It's obvious that unlimited in these cases don't mean use as much as you like as it says clearly what the fair use is.

    So now just because dumb people can't work that out we're going to have to have limited connections that charge more or stop once the limit is reached.

    I hate this pandering to the dumbarses at the detriment of normal people

    1. Richard 12 Silver badge

      Anon, look up "Unlimited" in a dictionary.

      # having no limits in range or scope; "to start with a theory of unlimited freedom is to end up with unlimited despotism"- Philip Rahv; "the limitless reaches of outer space"

      # outright: without reservation or exception

      # inexhaustible: that cannot be entirely consumed or used up; "an inexhaustible supply of coal"

      The 'internet service provider' use of the word unlimited does not match up with *any* of those definitions.

      Ergo, they are lying.

      Just because the ASA also do not own a dictionary doesn't make it right.

    2. Alex Rose

      So what you're saying is... that it's obvious that unlimited in these cases doesn't mean unlimited.

      So I can advertise trips to the moon for £1000 and when 1000 less than intelligent people give me their money I can just turn round and say "Well it's obvious that in these cases a trip to the moon isn't a trip to the moon. Only a dumbarse would expect to get a trip to the moon for £1000" and I'd be morally and legally entitled to keep the money would I?

      You, sir, are a dumbarse of an entirely different kind.

      1. Disco-Legend-Zeke

        In Olden...

        ...days, late 90's. We used RACKSHACK for our cloud. We got an allotment of transfer included with the rental, and paid "Per G" for going over.

        As time went by, the allocation became larger, and so the cost per GB was lower. The speed was as fast as a 100baseT card (and your server) could pump out.

        So we got "Unlimited Speed" for measured data. In terms of having happy hosting customers, it was the best buy for me at the time.

        We have since changed data centers and have a smaller amout of bandwidth, but no cap on data transfer.

        In both instances, the price was clearly stated, and i chose the best fit for my needs.

        As alex hyperbolicly states, your use of the Queen's English in 36 point Helvetica implies a contract that can't be negated in 6 point comic sans. There is nothing "wrong" with a moon landing simulator ride, nor is measured data unreasonable at this early stage of cheap wireless transmission. But in both cases the advertising needs to clearly state the costs and benefits of a particular product.

        With the provisioning of 4G, and aggressive pricing by Sprint partner CLEAR, unmeasured data will compete with measured transfer. This will not happen soon, it is happening already. It would be very interesting to see data sales stats in CLEAR cities.

        Hopefully, price pressure from 4G will force the greedy carriers (tm) to create more reasonable Per GB pricing for tethering and the new hotspot phones.

    3. heyrick Silver badge


      "Unlimited" means "unlimited", as in without limits. If you then go and add specific limitations then it is no longer *un*limited.

      So now just because dumb people can't work with a normal dictionary definition of a word, we arrive at situations such as this.

      I hate these pandering dumbasses to the detriment of normal people.

    4. peter 45


      So if I warranty your car for unlimited mileage but limit it to 1000 miles or one week in the small print you won't complain then? I just happen to have a car for sale. Grin

      Or offer you an all you can eat buffet but state in the small print that all you can eat is actually two potatos you won't complain then? I just happen to be opening a resturant. Please pay me a visit.

      Or offer you a lifetime warranty on your toaster and define lifetime as one day, you will not be coming back to me after two days?


      The only thing here that us unlimited is the creative marketing speak that can offer you something and actually give you exactly the opposite, and think that is perfectly fine. Have you actually considered that these companys are deliberatly putting in stuff like this and relying on everyone except the most savvy not to understand. It is called Confusion Marketing. Look it up.

    5. Arclight

      No its not

      It's not always obvious what 'fair use' is. A banner line proclaiming "UNLIMITED" in letters that fill half the ad, followed by asterisk that links to tiny "fair use" words at the bottom of the page, and you usually have to go onto the internet to find exactly what that fair use is.

      That said, the use of the word 'unlimited' is totally wrong, full stop. As per the dictionary definition, not one of these broadband offers, and this includes virginmeadia cable and any other land based broadband, is unlimited. To call something unlimited, and then announce a limit means that the first statement is a lie. End of.

  4. OFI


    Glad he's said this and been honest that they had no choice but to advertise inline with other companies and use the 'unlimited' term.

    There are bodies that are supposed to regulate this sort of thing who just aren't doing their job.

    There needs to be a ban on using the term unlimited so all of these companies can change overnight. They can't afford to not advertise an 'unlimited' package as customers will go elsewhere thinking they are getting a better deal despite being subject to Farce Usage Policies.

    Orange claimed they have the most complete 3G network? Don't T-mobile, Three, Virgin and Orange all share the same 3G network?

    Although speaking of Orange if you look at their Broadband Comparison on their own website they claim their deal is better than BTs cheapest package because BT only offer 10GB whilst Orange is 'Unlimited' despite Orange having an unofficial 3GB bandwidth cap...

    1. Andy ORourke
      Thumb Up

      You are correct

      I mean, they can't continue to use Unlimited* (* = subject to some arbitrary limit in our "fair use policy") but neither can anyone afford to drop this word because all the remaining telco's will continue to offer "Unlimited" packages and therefore look to the casual shopper to provide better packages.

      My favourite was my wife's Orange telephone contract:

      Unlimited Text Messaging* (* Subject to a maximum of 3000) so why not just say 3000 texts per month, it's not like she is ever going to hit this limit, sorry maximum :-)

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        On the other hand...

        ...some unlimited conditions exist purely to stop abuse by businesses and scammers. Example: I get free (inter)national calls with my Livebox. Pretty much anywhere on the globe that isn't a current hotbed of terrorism.

        Limits? Two. I cannot call more than 500 *different* numbers in the course of a month (that works out to be about 16 different numbers per day!) and, I really really love this, I cannot make more than 24 hours of calls in any one day period. WTF? I'm not The Girl Who Leapt Through Time so how... oh, nevermind, I guess that's hardly a limitation.

        If anything, I can go wild and call loads of people for a chat [wanna chat? mail me... ;-) ] and not run afoul of my limited-unlimited tariff.

        On the other hand, if it had arbitrary restrictions like "a call can only last 60 minutes (call 'em back...)" or "you can only speak free for X hours in a day" or "you can only call 50 different numbers"... this would NOT be unlimited; especially if the 60 minutes carried on but charged normal tariff from the 61st minute.

        So, in essence, I'd agree that my tariff is suitably "unlimited" for domestic use, which is the intention. Businesses get a different package, and a sexy black Livebox with lots of RJ45s...

        1. Reg Sim
          Thumb Up

          In yer example:

          They could simply say 'unlimited for private use', thus when they lop ya off when you have called more than 500 diffrent numbers in a month or called more than 24 hours in a day... I presume you can hax the live box to call more than one person at a time, or to conferance call.

          the latter would be done though the agreement, ie you will not hax our boxes or curcumvent our products or you be deleted or more simply conferance calls are not allowed. Would fall under the banner 'Unlimited private calls'.

          In this way you stay true to your slogan, ie your not lying and at the same time your not opening your self to abuse.

          The products that do my head in are were there is bandwith factoring, where they alter your bandwith depending what your doing with it. Screw them you paid for the bandwith at 'upto XXX speed'. And I also think its about time they gave you a garanteed minium speed. (or that they are only allowed to advertise the 'minimum speed'. rather than the max.)

          Anyway like most people here I am sure like me they could rant about this stuff for hours, although I would like to think if you stuck most of us in a room we would come out with a nice solid mandate :)

  5. Anonymous Coward


    Three's best one was to halve the "unlimited" to 500MB but then to offer more Data on another "unlimited" add on for 5GBP giving 2G as neither are unlimited I could not understand haw they could advertise this with a straight face.

    1. StephenD

      Straight faces

      I can understand how they can advertise it with a straight face - they're in business to make money and will try to get away with whatever they legally can.

      What I can't for the life of me understand is how the ASA can reject complaints about this with a straight face. It beggars belief.

      1. Eponymous Cowherd

        ASA is a waste of space anyway.

        So company x get an adjudication and told the ad "should not appear again in its current form".

        Big fat hairy deal. The ad run has finished, done its job of conning people and is never going to be shown again anyway.

        To be any use the ASA need real powers to fine advertisers or apply other sanctions, particularly for repeat offenders.

    2. Rob Beard


      I'll have to check my T&C's. I'm on an 'internet & texter) mobile contract at the moment, that is, I get sod all minutes (75 mins) but unlimited texts (actually something like 3,300 which is about 3,200 more than I'd use in a normal month) and 'unlimited' data that was 1GB. I'm going to be a bit cheesed off if they've reduced it to 500MB!


  6. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Well said Mr 3, well said.

  7. gautam

    There's Logic there now - They are not Dumb or Charitable.

    He is not dumb. Times are achanging and they are still goons at heart.

    SInce more and more of the gadgets are coming on stream which uses WiFi and data (Iphones,Ipads,Dell Streaks, HTC Smartphones etc), thats where their next revenue streams are coming from. Voice calls are just so passe!

    These b****rd Telcos now need to get their act in order that they can squeeze every extra penny form these data intensive gadgets' use by the eqully dumb populace.

    Did you guys really think they've had a change of heart? Or got ashamed despite ASA and OFCOM doing f**k all? No way. Mobile data is the next big thing to pinch pennies from punters.

    Previous mobile phones were not that data intensive, so they could get away with the misleading adverts knowing full well that the networks will cope and not many people would bother with the slower speeds and pathetic screens. Come Iphone and other smartphoens, and they started shitting bricks and Official caps started becoming fashionable.Lack of investment in infrastructure didnt help.

    Hence these idiots are now putting a gloss on whats up their sleeve - coming.

    Which is Screw the punters for data now ! Go over the limit and you pay big time.

    Cynical of me ? You bet. Cant trust them anymore.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Pinch pennies from punters?

      A less cynical view is that bandwidth costs. If people are buying devices that use more data then they'll hit their 'unlimited' caps more quickly and will become annoyed. This looks like an attempt to head off that annoyance. Sure, telcos will charge people more for using more data, but it costs them more too. I suppose you could always join the communist party and campaign for a change of government if you don't like the current system of business we operate in this country?

  8. Chris UK
    Thumb Up

    Three make a bold move

    Much respect to three uk here from us, three take a lot of abuse for their bad customer service which has significantly improved over the past few years but clearly they are trying to show the customers a more honest future. It must be hard to be the first company stopping using the "unlimited" term, the other networks still use it and it makes three look bad unless you know the real deal including accociated fair use policies. "the one plan" is a prime example of what customers want, good value, honest terms and a really good deal. Kevin Russell deserves a lot of credit for this move in my opinion, makes a big difference from companies like apple who market as much as possible but dont support their customers with things that they actually want. We, as the mobile using public have wanted honest terms for a long time, congratulations to three uk for bringing it here and for being the first to be upfront about their contracts. Personally, i believe this is a big move for three and good luck to them.


    1. Anonymous Coward

      significantly improved?

      I'm glad I didn't know what they used to be like, going off my experience with them in the last week I can only presume they would tell you to F Off as soon as you called them. Now they just flat out lie to you and bounce you around from various departments who they claim to have explained the situation to but clearly haven't.

  9. Anonymous Coward

    consumer grade long range Wifi Needed ASAP

    'CB Radio For The Modern Age' give us our airwaves Back for free Long Range wifi use.

    OC the real problem is that ordinary end users Don't really Have a consumer grade Open Long Range 200 megabit/1 gigabit Wifi/WiMax router Option available to them so They Can make Their Own Free/Co-Op operative long range WAN/MAN/country Back bone.

    all that lovely analogue TV frequency in the north west and soon everywhere going to waste waiting to be sold off to the highest international corporate bidders ONLY.

    and not one single official Govt/OFCOM mention of any of OUR airwaves being given back to US for our Own generic free community long range wifi/Wimax use that the worlds OEM's could profit from supplying this wireless router and related kit.

    see make it simple, get us a good quantity of the analogue TV range back. and the consumer long range wireless router and related kit to actually set-up and use that , and we Will make our own community lead wireless web backbones/last mile connections to each other and so NOT NEED the consumer wired/wireless ISP carriers to fleece us per mbit a second for ever with their unlimited plans and other PR idea's waiting in the wings....

    give us our airwaves back NOW, and encourage the worlds OEM's to make available generic wifi/wimax chipsets and other kit available to buy at a good consumer price, end of story....

    as a side option you could also encourage the Uk's tear backbone Co-Location sites to expand fibre into all area's of the UK's unused Govt and other buildings/ground with tax breaks to make micro/mini Co-Location sites and actually supply existing and cheap wireless 1 gigabit links directly from these to Your average Home consumer too, and so do away with the middle man consumer Unlimited PR ISP/phone companies all together in fact ;)

  10. steogede

    I remember the days

    I remember the days when unlimited was more than unlimited. AOL used to offer 750 hours of access a month to their dial-up service (24x31 = 744)

  11. andy 10

    I'll still take the unlimited...

    On a 750MB plan they'll start charging you at 750MB + 1KB, on 'unlimited' with 750MB FUP they may or may not use technical measures when you go over but at least you won't get charged any more - definitely the less shit option for most people.

  12. Arclight


    Orange can say "Unlimited" followed by "not really" and get away with it

    Can I say "I'll pay all my bill" followed by "Not really"?

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