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Speed Confusion Gets Vodafone UK Gigafast Broadband Ad Banned

Wednesday, April 17th, 2019 (8:00 am) - Score 10,287

Cable ISP Virgin Media has successfully nudged the UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) to ban Vodafone from using the term “Gigafast” to generally promote their slower Fibre-to-the-Home (FTTH) based broadband tiers, which offered average speeds that range from 100Mbps to 900Mbps (i.e. not only 1Gbps).

The Gigafast Broadband products are what Vodafone uses to promote a range of packages on Cityfibre’s new FTTH network, which is currently being deployed to cover 5 million premises across 37 UK cities and towns by the end of 2024 (here). The plans currently cost from £28 per month (at one point this was £23) for an unlimited 100Mbps (symmetric speed) service and this rises to just £48 for their top 900Mbps tier (average peak time speeds).

However Virgin Media complained that Vodafone frequently promoted the service more generally using just the “Gigafast” term, which they said “misleadingly implied” that the entire service was capable of delivering speeds of 1 Gigabit per second (Gbps) when instead they offered a range of different speeds.

The ruling could have implications for any ISP that chooses to use similar “Gigabit” style terminology to promote the general capability of such networks, which may ironically end up including Virgin Media’s forthcoming launch of two “gigabit cities” (here); depending upon how they promote them and qualify the language.

ASA Ruling (REF: A18-473238)

“The ASA considered that many consumers would likely understand the prefix ‘Giga’ to be a hyperbolic description of speed, and would therefore generally understand ‘Gigafast’ internet was very fast broadband. However, we considered that a significant proportion of consumers would have sufficient knowledge of broadband terminology to understand Gigafast Broadband as a reference to a service capable of providing speeds of 1 Gbps (1000Mbps).

Although we considered that the website made clear that Vodafone Gigafast referred to a range of packages which were not all capable of providing 1Gbps, because it implied that consumers could get a service that offered speeds of 1Gbps for £23 per month, when that was not the case, we concluded that it was likely to mislead.”

The ASA’s ruling is in fact only taking exception to situations where “Gigafast” was being used as a general term for all of their packages, without further qualification. However the ASA saw no problem when the ISP promoted their packages by saying, “Enjoy lightning-fast internet speeds with Vodafone Gigafast Broadband” and then qualified that with the statement “… average speeds from 100Mbps to 900Mbps.

As usual the ASA banned Vodafone’s related adverts and told the ISP not to imply that a package capable of achieving 1Gbps was available from £23 a month (i.e. the cost of their 100Mbps plan).

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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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16 Responses
  1. Phil says:

    Just another way of advertising “up to” speeds, imply the highest speed is available to everyone then deliver much less, still the ASA think it’s okay to call copper delivered VDSL “Fibre” broadband!

    So it’s a good job it didn’t go against VirginMedia as otherwise it would be a court ruling like the term ‘fibre’, and it might have been a different outcome, such as:

    “We welcome the Court’s decision which finds in the ASA’s favour on all grounds and dismisses VirginMedia’s arguments.

    The review of the evidence we undertook to arrive at our position on the use of the term “gigafast” to describe services from 100Mbps to 1000Mbps in ads was based on robust methodology and open minded analysis of all of the arguments.

    The process we followed to test if the average consumer is being misled by the use of the term “gigafast” to describe speeds from as low as 100Mbps to 1000Mbps is the one we have used to protect UK consumers from misleading advertising for many years and we are pleased that the Court has supported our approach after a hard fought legal process.”

    1. Joe says:

      Its certainly the case that comparing the ASAs argument here and in the fibre bb case would make a good entry in the dictionary under cognitive dissonance

  2. A_Builder says:

    I’m not sure this is positive.

    I think ISP’s and CP’s should be allowed to call services Gigafast where they are

    a) pure fibre
    b) symmetrical 1G is available

    The reality is that many consumers may volitionally order slower speed but in the full knowledge that they can just ring up and order faster.

    ISP’s and CP’s need a bit of advertising candy for spending £Bn upgrading things to proper standards.

  3. Phil says:

    Anything that stops misleading advertising is a good thing. People struggle as it is understanding the jargon around broadband and the rubbish often heard from support staff when the customer calls with a problem, without mis-selling as well.

    By all means sell a ‘Gigafast’ product that is 1Gbps, but then sell the slower 500Mbps product as “Megafast”, the slowest one at 100Mpbs could just be called ‘Vodaphone Broadband 100’. Straight away you’ve got 3 products called something that clearly defines the best product for the price conscious and the best product to go for those happy to pay more for the fastest, and the a middle product for those in between.

    It is not rocket science. To call them all “Gigafast” is misleading, and the only reason they’ve done it.

    1. A_Builder says:

      I’m sorry I don’t agree.

      The issue is encouraging CP’s and ISP’s to trade and handle pure fibre lines.

      Pure fibre lines benefit users with inherently lower latency, higher reliability and better stable throughput.

      The investment needs to be encouraged.

      If users choose to purchase a 100/100 product that is up to them. However, if that 100/100 product is over a 1000/1000 FTTP then it is Gigabit enable-able and if the consumer needs 300/300 – 900/900 (or whatever is flavour of the month) they are only a phone call or website away from enabling that.

      This could all get a bit silly and marketing 1000/1000 connection could be banned as gig connections because of the overhead you ‘only’ ever get about 940/940 out of them on a good day.

  4. FibreFred says:

    The market needs to drop buzz words and just focus on the speeds offered.

  5. Not CC says:

    It’s all part of the gigafarce.

  6. Mark says:

    Joe Average couldn’t care less about terms like fibre being overused.
    Joe Average couldn’t care less about how the broadband is supplied.

    They only care about the speed, and since we currently use Megabit to describe our speeds, then stick to it.

    Tacking on names like fibre this that and the other, doesn’t help much.
    ASA needs to get it’s act together about all these terms kicking about and crack the whip.

  7. JJH says:

    We’re on Vodafone and the reliability s poor. Trouble is, Vodafone can’t do anything about it because the underlying problem is BT’s infrastructure – and they couldn’t give a toss.

    BT are the ones who should be taken to task; it’s long overdue!

    1. SimonR says:

      This is about Vodafone’s fibre product though, rolling out by CityFibre.

  8. Martin Pitt - Aquiss says:

    The reality is, this is Virgin Media’s first shot across the bow at what they will consider a possible future threat to their business going forward. They are doing what big businesses always do, if they can start firing the bullets early doors the other side may retreat. In this case, run off to the ASA to put some pressure by throwing toys out the pram. Repeat and rinse when CityFibre/Vodaphone complain about future Virgin Media adverts.

    The ASA need to look at themselves. They have muddied the waters with some baffling conclusions over the years, whether this is by influence or lack of industry knowledge, who knows.

  9. Christopher Woodhead says:

    So the ASA ban them advertising that it’s 1Gbps when it’s 90% is, but FTTC is adverted as fiber when it’s not 100% could be 80% fibre the rest copper. Double standards here!

    1. GNewton says:

      Agreed. The ASA has no credibility.

    2. Jim Weir says:

      No, they were pulled up for the implication that Gigabit was available from £28 – if they’d used the correct price there would be no complaint

    3. GNewton says:

      @Jim Weir: Fair point. Still, it comes across as hypocritical when ASA can do a correct judgement here, but at the same time is repsonsible for allowing misleading “fibre-broadband” adverts by many companies and does nothing about that!

  10. Gary says:

    Its all so confusing for companies and advertisers deciding what to call something, when you just cant face using the actual word that describes it because you want it to sound better than it is.

    Fibre that’s copper and Gigabit that’s not, People keep mentioning that ‘average joe’ doesn’t care or understand, Seriously ! Is that the basis we want to use for deciding if something is right or not?

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