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ASA Ban Vodafone UK Ads for Misleading Unlimited Data Claims

Wednesday, February 5th, 2020 (7:22 am) - Score 3,858
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Complaints made by Virgin Media and Three UK have today resulted in the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) banning several adverts for Vodafone’s new “unlimited data” mobile plans, which primarily occurred because of a failure to clearly express the related mobile broadband speed restrictions (especially on 5G).

Vodafone UK first launched the new unlimited data plans last July 2019, and at roughly the same time as their ultrafast 5G network began to be deployed (here), although two of the three plans included a maximum speed restriction and this was reflected in the price customers paid: Unlimited Max (£30 – Maximum network speed possible), Unlimited (£26 up to 10Mbps) and Unlimited Lite (£23 up to 2Mbps).

Several adverts for the plans soon followed. Today’s case thus relates to a promotion on Vodafone’s website (a), a regional newspaper ad (b), a paid-for Facebook post (c) and a paid-for advert on uSwitch (d). However Virgin Media and Three UK both challenged whether the use of the term “unlimited,” as well as the reference to 5G in relation to the two speed-capped plans, were misleading.

In terms of the first advert (a), the speed caps were only mentioned in smaller text and the promotion began: “all our Unlimited data plans are available with 5G, and each is built to match however you use your data.” You then had to click a pop-up in order to find out more info. about the speed limits (advert (d) also kept all such detail behind an extra click). Advert (b) similarly kept details of the speed caps to the small print and (c) didn’t even mention them, but did state 5G.

Virgin Media and Three UK both noted that the maximum download speeds for the two plans were significantly below the average speeds that could be achieved on 5G and 4G (Vodafone’s website stated that it expected to deliver average 5G speeds of 150-200Mbps and that it delivered average 4G speeds of 25-35Mbps). In the end the ASA agreed that Vodafone had not stated the speed restrictions clearly enough.

ASA Ruling (REF: G19-1035529)

We considered that it was in principle acceptable for the ads to use the term “Unlimited” in relation to the Unlimited Lite and Unlimited plans. However, because the ads either implied that a plan or plans were available at 4G speeds without making the speed restrictions sufficiently clear, or implied that a plan or plans were available at 5G speeds when that was not the case, all four ads breached the Code.

As usual the ASA banned such promotions and told Vodafone to ensure that any future adverts relating to those plans “clearly stated the speed restrictions which applied” and that “any references to 5G which would be understood by consumers as relating to the Unlimited Lite and Unlimited plans were immediately qualified to explain clearly that the plans would not deliver 5G speeds.”

We did wonder whether Vodafone’s approach might cross paths at some point with the ASA and so it has come to pass, such is the difficulty with the approach they took of capping speeds in such a way. Historically the ASA has always come down hard on mobile operators and ISPs that fail to make such limitations clear. The full ASA ruling goes into a lot more depth and is worth a read.

Leave a Comment
25 Responses
  1. Avatar Leex says:

    Virgin mobile should come under False advertising on their unlimited data, as they cap streaming or YouTube to about 3.8mb/s

    I actually cancelled my virgin mobile early as it was pointless to use (as I couldn’t watch anyone on twitch if there bitrate was above 3200 or YouTube was in 720p60)

    1. Mark Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      Put in a complaint to the ASA and you’ll take a look at that.

    2. Avatar alison says:

      Okay – so I get around 90Mbps most of the time where I am. I have the sim they give away with the top package. I can watch YT just fine and use all the bandwidth according to the stats for nerds. Not sure how unlimited it is – and I doubt it’s as good as the EE 1TB cap (if you hit it – they put you down to the business package, which even with VAT is still £20 cheaper than consumer – weird!) BUT I am currently on 490GB and it’s still running fine – it’s my only connection when away from home.

      Vodafone on their website certainly demonstrate 2,10 and highest possible Mpbs = can’t see why they didn’t do this on the TV/Radio too?

    3. Avatar Onephat says:

      Just like Alison, I’ve spent 3 days in Aberdeen using a Virgin sim in a 4g mifi device streaming YouTube for half the day with no issues. I’m also on their package you get free with their oomph package

    4. Avatar alison says:

      My DD cancelled itself for no reason. I was blocked and called them. I was told “it’s a free product but you need an active DD” which is fine they do a monthly bill for £0 anyway as you know. But no one would pay £32 a month for a speed limited sin for what EE offer for £2 more!

  2. Avatar dave says:

    Typical of Virgin and Three.

    When you can’t beat them, nitpick their adverts and whinge to the ASA.

    1. Avatar alison says:

      And Ironically Virgin Mobile are moving over to Vodafone in 2021 as they ” don’t want to be on their competitors network”. Thank god the UO sim is free – because Vodafone in my area is rubbish and I won’t be using it when they switch.

  3. Avatar sd says:

    At least Vodafone have no fair usage at all on their unlimited plans AFAIK where EE is 1TB and O2 is 650GB…
    Has anyone ever had 1Tb+ usage on an unlimited Vodafone plan? Any sign of fair use?

    1. Avatar dave says:

      I’ve read multiple peoples reports that after 3.5TB you have to call them up to get data reactivated.

    2. Avatar sd says:

      3.5TB is a very decent FUP then if you ask me vs O2 and EE

    3. Avatar alison says:

      Yes it is.. I have ee 5G and it’s 1Tb still – after which you get put onto unlimited business plan which has a FUP of 2TB and is £20 cheaper. Only 1 person has done it s ofar and apparently it was done abroad

      I struggle to hit 500GB on both sims – so 3.5TB is literally unlimited in a month or year on mobile!

    4. Avatar sd says:

      Thanks for the info, that’s really useful to know.

    5. Avatar Gary says:

      Alison, 3.5TB Isn’t ‘literally unlimited’ it’s quite the opposite.

    6. Avatar alison says:

      Gary, Well based on the fact with my speed in my areas where I live and work I would never in a month of Sundays get through that in a year let alone a month!

      So for me, it is and we will leave it at that.

    7. Avatar Jim says:

      Vodafone fair usage on unlimited is 3TB it is not “unlimited”

    8. Avatar david says:

      I work for Vodafone. Its fair use policy is 8TB

    9. Avatar DontMakeMeLaugh says:

      @david

      Are your Simon?

  4. Avatar MartinConf says:

    Really can’t see what Vodafone have done wrong, maybe everything has to be idiot proof these days. Gone are the days of fully researching a product or service before your buy.

    1. Avatar James Buchanan says:

      A 5G Sim with a 2mbps speed cap is misleading

    2. Avatar dave says:

      I don’t agree with you, Vodafone make it abundantly clear.

      This is the same ASA that lets providers advertise broadband provided via copper as fibre. Using their reasoning, basically all broadband is fibre, even mobile!

    3. Avatar alison says:

      James, I totally agree

      Which is why they don’t do 5G with a 2Mbps cap! – that’s the 4G packages – as the 5G package is the same as the Unlimited Max package it’s full speed.

      I was looking into this a month ago – the website has not changed. – never saw the TV add so can’t comment.

      Unlimited Max is fastest speed – exactly the same package on their system they sell Voxi under

    4. Avatar ? says:

      sorry Alison but the 2mbps package is 5g I just read through the small print

    5. Avatar Simon says:

      I actually work for Vodafone. They mislead all the time. They hold or hide info that should be given out all the time. Even to staff.

    6. Avatar DontMakeMeLaugh says:

      @Simon

      Are you david?

  5. Avatar Denise Mutter says:

    The point is surely that unlimited should mean unlimited, and any caveat which qualifies that implies something that is not unlimited. If customers are being mislead which they clearly are, then it is a case for the ASA. Even if you are tech savvy, the English definition of unlimited is exactly that! If Vodafone mean something different and far be it for me to suggest that they would deliberately mislead in order to gain customers, then they should consult someone with a better grasp of the English language.

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