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ASA UK Put the Advertising of Network Adapter Speeds Under a Spotlight

Wednesday, December 31st, 2014 (8:47 am) - Score 991
uk advertising standards authority

The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has banned a website ad for ZyXEL’s PLA4201 500Mbps Mini Powerline Ethernet Adaptor after two people complained that the performance claims were “misleading“, not least because the adapter itself only offered a 100Mbps (RJ-45) capable Ethernet port. Admittedly this isn’t strictly ISP related, but it’s still interesting.

At present it’s quite normal to see network adapters (e.g. Powerline or WiFi) being sold alongside big claims about top performance, with some even promoting figures of several Gigabits per second (i.e. Local Area Network [LAN] speeds). But in reality we all know that the top speeds of such devices are rarely achieved in the real-world and thus some of the complaints against ZyXEL could thus just as easily be levelled against many other manufacturers.

In ZyXEL’s case they actually explained that the 500Mbps figure represented only the theoretical credentials of their Powerline chipset, which might have been fine had they not also hobbled the device itself via a single 100Mbps port and thus nothing even remotely close to the top speed could ever possibly be achieved (note: in reality most 500Mbps Powerline kit we see rarely deliver much more than 70-90Mbps real-world, hence the 100Mbps port).

ASA Statement (details)

Because we had not seen robust documentary evidence to demonstrate that the advertised product could achieve transfer speeds of 500 Mbps, we considered the claims had not been substantiated and therefore breached the Code.”

The advert also stated that ZyXEL’s adapter “improves up to 60% performance for stable HD media streaming compared with 200Mbps powerline technology **” (the asterisks did not link to further text), which the manufacturer said related to the average improvement in the stability of the network connection between the advertised product and the 200Mbps version of the Powerline product that they supplied (i.e. when subjected to attenuation of between 60db and 90db). But the ASA said this wasn’t good enough.

ASA Statement

We considered consumers were unlikely to interpret the claim in that way; rather we considered the precise meaning of the claim was unclear to consumers. We understood that both complainants had interpreted the claim to mean that the advertised product could achieve a data transfer rate that was 60% higher than the 200 Mbps version of the Powerline product and considered that to be a reasonable interpretation of the claim. Because the meaning of the claim was unclear to consumers and did not reflect the advertiser’s intended claim, we considered the claim was likely to mislead.”

The ASA banned the adverts in their current form and warned ZyXEL to ensure that “transfer speeds were accurate and capable of robust substantiation in future“. The authority also told the company to ensure that their claims were presented clearly and were not likely to mislead consumers.

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Mark Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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29 Responses
  1. Avatar Jamie

    They’ve missed the point, the speed is the maximum allowed on the power cables between multiple adapters and not the throughput to each individual one.

    • No they haven’t missed the point because it’s all about how consumers will perceive what is advertised versus what they can actually experience on their home network transfers. If you say the adapter does 500Mbps but only give a 100Mbps Ethernet port then it’s easy to see why ordinary consumers might be confused.

      Contrast that against the adapters claiming 500Mbps, but which are sold with Gigabit ports. In reality they’ll both perform about the same, but at least the Gigabit one is closer to being honest about what the connection can actually achieve.

  2. Avatar Jamie

    They are claiming the max bandwidth the protocol supports on power cables between multiple adapters, factors such as cable quality and interference will obviously reduce the speed. 500Mb means you can potentially have 5 adapters all using the max 100Mb available to them at the same time.

    • Indeed but again such a crucial point is not reflected by the advert itself, which only ever uses the example of plugging a pair of adapters into electric outlets. Similarly the ASA notes that no evidence of the performance claim was provided. It’s easy for an I.T person to understand the reality but not everybody who buys such adapters falls into that category.

  3. I did a video about some TP link 500mbps adaptors which has notched up nearly 60k views. Initially, some people were shocked that the max speeds I was getting were only 9MBps=72mbps and kept saying that my test methodology was wrong. Fortunately, now the video’s become reasonably popular, other IT pros have come and affirmed in the comments what I have been saying all long!

    The public do compare the adaptors by the speeds printed in big letters on the packet. And nearly all the models I saw in my last visit of a PC retailer stated 500mbps.

    • Avatar No Clue

      People must be idiots then, and using the ASA logic any advert for any router which advertises itself as 300Mb wireless or more should also be banned, because on a 802.1n 300Mbps device you will never see that full 300Mbps or anything near it, typically the best you are looking at is around 70Mbps.

      Much as it pains me to admit it but i agree with “jamie” the ASA have this wrong, infact that very specific Zyxel adapter according to their own website http://www.zyxel.com/uk/en/products_services/pla4201_v2.shtml?t=p
      very clearly pints out it follows the “IEEE 1901 specifications” which if you go and google that allows them to dub the device “500mbps” whether it will run at that rate or not.

      That device has also passed FCC, CE and various other test deriving industry standards, the ASA can think what they like but that device has been subject to more testing than they even comprehend.

    • Avatar Rusty

      I think Mark’s comment still stand here No Clue. Most consumers won’t understand the ‘standards’ the device is using – they just want to be able to move the ‘super fast’ broadband to another room efficiently and reliably, and perhaps take advantage of a wired home network. I certainly didn’t realise this and notice my home plugs aren’t capable of running to the max speed. This isn’t a big deal for me, because my internet speed is 50Mb and that’s all I’m using them for. If I had wanted to set up a home network, and transfer large files locally between devices I would be disappointed. That doesn’t make me an idiot – it just means I place trust in what the packaging is trying to lead me to believe.

    • Avatar No Clue

      If you feel what is on the box of any computer related equipment should match real life then you should run along and report the wireless claims of your routers box to the ASA, cos you will never see those speeds either.

      Maybe you also think other components in your computer use should match claims also, does your SATA HDD transfer data at a rate of several gigabits per second??

      NO it doesnt, thats what is claimed for them though.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serial_ATA#Revisions

      Your monitors delay rate quoted in ms… That will not match the 1ms or similar nonsense claims either.

      If someone can not understand the difference between theoretical technical limits and real life then i would argue they are indeed an idiot. I imagine a bicycle could travel at 100+ mph, would you buy one though and think you are going to be able to pedal it that fast though?

      Ive seen some stupid ASA decisions on here but this now takes the biscuit.

      A device that has passed various quality, safety, as well as meeting industry standards yet one idiot and the ASA think the product is described wrong?

      Maybe we should do away with technical testing of electronics all together before they hit the market, then fools can go moaning to the ASA when they burst into flames and moan there was no warning on the box. Hell if lucky doing that the flames will take the device and the idiot with them and the world may end up a few idiots less.

      Are the ASA now going to ban every powerline and router manufacturer claiming any speed? I wonder what tests they would like to see to demonstrate what a device is capable of if testing which costs organisations thousands is not good or accurate enough but is recognised throughout the whole damn planet. (minus the odd idiot and the ASA that do not comprehend things called “certification” and devices that have passed it).

      Some of the decisions the ASA make with regards to things broadband or computer related are just laughable, anyone that does not live with their head in the clouds must question what is the point of the ASA even existing? They have no real power and basically it seems do nothing of any sense when it comes to technology.

    • Avatar Rusty

      Well it appears most people commenting on here disagree with you. We must all be idiots. Thanks for the insult. It must be so frustrating to live in a world where everyone is wrong and you are right.

      Regarding all of the other ridiculous comparisons, they aren’t really the same thing are they. People use monitors to view things, they don’t care about refresh rates as long as it does its job well. Hard disk drives – as long as my computer is running and performing to my expectations, who cares? I also don’t believe these products even advertise this technical information in large headline text on product boxes. These products you have compared this to aren’t trying to catch a consumer’s attention with headline statements that are perceived as fact – I believe that is the point being made.

    • Avatar No Clue

      “People use monitors to view things, they don’t care about refresh rates as long as it does its job well.”

      Obviously you have never read forums with gamers asking for the best refresh rates, screen delay etc.

      “Hard disk drives – as long as my computer is running and performing to my expectations, who cares?”

      Er you should because if you want 500Mbps out of a bit of powerline kit it wont make a blind bit of difference if it can do it if the device you are writing data to can not.

      “I also don’t believe these products even advertise this technical information in large headline text on product boxes.”

      Contrast ratios are in massive print on some TV boxes, likewise i assume you have never seen the USB 2 logo plastered all over boxes of tech?
      Oh and every wireless router i know of has the wireless rate in massive print, infact on the back you normally even find a massive chart singing how much quicker it is than prior generations. Ive never seen a wireless router that makes “TINY” claims about it theoretical wireless speeds, care to show me one?

      Er you should because if you want 500Mbps out of a bit of powerline kit it wont make a blind bit of difference if it can do it if the device you are writing data to can not.

  4. Avatar Bob

    Being an evil capitalist I am no fan of government regulatory bodies, but the ASA do have a point in that it’s deceptive.

  5. Avatar Vince

    I agree this is misleading and indeed I’ve realised more recently that the TP-Link PA411KIT units I bought (about 18 months ago) are the same.

    The link I get between mine is around 398 meg or so – but until now it’s never really come up because the only thing connected between them wouldn’t use more than a couple of meg. However, I’ve recently rearranged, and now I’ve realised that now that’s essentially the link between my router and the rest of my network I can’t max my connection out (I’ve got a bonded FTTC 80/20 so I’ve actually got 160/40). I hadn’t given it a single thought until now because I never wanted it for more than connecting one box to the network that wasn’t very important.

    I do agree it is very misleading because you it isn’t specified that to get the “500 meg” headline figure (or whatever the realistic and accepted max is for your setup), you would need to be doing that across multiple adapters.

  6. Avatar Vince

    (see my other comment first)

    P.S. I’ve just as it happens got the newer version that have Gigabit Ports so I will shortly be testing the theory…

    • Avatar No Clue

      “P.S. I’ve just as it happens got the newer version that have Gigabit Ports so I will shortly be testing the theory…”

      Your theory if you are expecting them to deliver a full gigabit is also flawed, unless your electrical wiring in your home is better than the typical household, even then you will not get a gigabit. There are technical limitations involved and not just with the devices but some peoples thinking.

      Your router does not deliver the claimed wireless speeds on the box.

      Your HDD does not tranfer data at a rate of several gigabits

      Your TV does not have a contrast ratio of several million to 1

      Your USB 2.0 devices do not read or write data at a rate of the claimed max of 480Mbps either

      Hell just scrap anything electrical in your home because most of it will not do what it says on the box.

      I realise this may be a shock to some people, sorry but its true, i suggest you all in a mental temper tantrum run along and burn your computer as protest for being deceived all these years.

  7. Avatar Vince

    Sorry “no clue”

    I didn’t say I expected Full Gigabit, but I *do* expect greater than the 100mbps rate of the current ones because they’re attaining 337mbps.

    …and yes, now I do get that.

    Your comment about USB is irrelevant – I’m writing to my home server which can quite happily saturate a 1 Gbps link – hell it saturates the 2 Gbps teamed link it has.

    My point is that a device claiming “500mbps” that could absolutely never do this because it has a physical limitation (eg the 100mbps port) is misleading unless it was clear as to the limitation (which it was not)

    • Oh good: I’m not the only one that can saturate a 2gbps link to my personal server! Dual Zeon, 8 cores for the win! Only trouble is the load balancing can sometimes go a bit amiss.

      I wouldn’t expect to get an actual speed of 337mps though. The TP-link PA411 in the living room is supposedly running at 180mbps but I’m lucky if I get 80mbps out of it!

    • Avatar No Clue

      “Your comment about USB is irrelevant – I’m writing to my home server which can quite happily saturate a 1 Gbps link – hell it saturates the 2 Gbps teamed link it has.”

      No it is not, what the link speed reports and what you are actually writing at is another matter entirely. And you sure as hell are not writing at a rate of 2Gbps unless your whole system is one massive raid or all SSD based and even then i highly doubt you would be able to write at those speeds. Anyone that has any clue knows things such as the filesystem in use, what type of files and their size which are being transferred will all affect speed. Its not my fault you do not comprehend how technology works.

    • Avatar No Clue

      “I didn’t say I expected Full Gigabit, but I *do* expect greater than the 100mbps rate of the current ones because they’re attaining 337mbps.”

      Oh and that claim for any powerline kit is also utter dribble be they 500Mbps or 1000Mbps…
      http://www.smallnetbuilder.com/tools/charts/powerline/bar/90-down
      You will not get 337Mbps in any singular direction from any of them even the latest 1200Mbps gear.

  8. Avatar Vince

    Oh and “no clue”

    “Your router does not deliver the claimed wireless speeds on the box” – no – it has no wireless so you’re right. But the Access Point I’m using does deliver 270mbps full throttle of the 300mbps it claims. It also costs £300 and as long as I’m using it with the right kit, it can.

    Some things do live to the claims.

  9. Avatar FibreFred

    Good old no clue , happy to argue about anything with anyone until people agree or get bored

    … Always the latter

    • Avatar Rusty

      Too right. I’ve never met anyone who has this view that they are right and everyone else is wrong, and to continue to labour their narrow minded view because it applies to him so it must apply to everyone else. I fully understand the point the person who complained to the ASA about, and why the ASA ruled as they did.

      You know, I wouldn’t mind it so much if he could argue in a constructive way, but the continual insults just to provoke others…. There’s a word for that – trolling. Which is such a shame as this is such a good site for broadband news, and for the most part people contribute in a useful and constructive way.

    • No Clue / CARPETBURN / whomever does have a long and not entirely distinguished history sadly. 🙁

    • Apologies – I forgot the ‘truth4free’, ‘Deduction’, ‘Raindrops’ and ‘BTSUCKS’ monikers as well which appear to also be the same person.

      A strange way to spend one’s time but to each their own.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      There’s a few more on the list but.. meh… I can’t even be bothered to recall them all

      The way I see it is… the more time he spends on here arguing the less time spent on Tor

    • Avatar No Clue

      “Too right. I’ve never met anyone who has this view that they are right and everyone else is wrong,”

      You mean i must be wrong about speed devices run at along with a well known website that test loads of kit from all the manufacturers, yet somehow your kit exceeds all the smallnetbuilder reviews. So yes if it makes you happy im wrong and so is smallnetbuilder and your devices just happen to perform better than a hundred or so which have been tested.

    • Avatar Rusty

      Always the last word, eh, No Clue?

    • Avatar No Clue

      If you want yes.

  10. Avatar dragoneast

    It’s always seemed to me that there should be professional guidance on how technical specifications should be described in marketing material(as there are for the specifications themselves) rather this post hoc judgement on what is “misleading” following a complaint, which actually helps no-one. But, of course, it wouldn’t create half as much fun (or, more importantly, create so much work for otherwise idle hands).

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