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What does 'up to' mean?
Wednesday 23 April 2008 13:19:54 by Andrew Ferguson

Is the phrase 'up to' in broadband advertising being missed or not understood by the consumer? Or are parts of the press embarking on a witch hunt?

When broadband providers advertise a product as 'up to 8Mbps' what they mean is:

  1. For ADSL/ADSL2+ based products your actual connection speed will vary based on factors including length of telephone line, state of wiring in the property and even time of day.
  2. For broadband products sold to consumers the networks beyond the local exchange/node are shared and as such you are not guaranteed to see downloads that hit the maximum speed, particularly during the busy times of the night.
  3. Most products sold as up to 2Mbps are actually a fixed speed connection, so it is a case of you get a 2Mbps connection or nothing. The speed variation is just down to the shared nature of consumer broadband.

This fairly simple message appears to have been lost and some sites are giving figures showing large percentages are not getting their promised speeds. It is not clear what this promise is though - at sign-up was the customer promised a speed of 8Mbps with no qualification?


Posted by rhastie over 9 years ago
I question whether "up to 8Mbps" is an accurate term to use anyway. My issue with this term is that even if you connect at the highest rate possible (8Mbps) you will never get this speed when terminating onto the Internet

This is mainly due to the following constraints that are never pointed out to consumers:

1. You will never actually achieve anything more then 7150kbps due your BRAS profile
2. ADSL is a contended product, using shared bandwidth within BT's Network.
3. You ISP's network is contended as well to varing and unknown degrees
Posted by wispy over 9 years ago
i won 'up to' £20m on the lotto on saturday. quite disappointing really...
Posted by keith_thfc over 9 years ago
I think phrases like "unlimited" and "FUP" are abused much more than "up to 8 Mbps".
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 9 years ago
I'm with Keith.

Last time I looked at an ISP (can't rememeber which, grr) they had a link to a graph which showed a rough speed breakdown - that sort of thing seems reasonable. (i.e. "50% of our customers get at least 3Mbps, 75% get at least 2 MBps...)
Posted by ChrisRedpath over 9 years ago
It's inaccurate for all the reasons in post 1. But I agree with keith too - the FUP/Unlimited scam is much worse. Providers should have to say what your limit is in PLAIN ENGLISH in all advertising.
Posted by ChrisRedpath over 9 years ago
For connection speed, the 'Up to' line is quite common now and applies to all variable rate providers equally.

Isn't there an industry body which could explain what this means to the public? The priciple is the same regardless of 'up to 8mb', 'up to 16mb' or 'up to 24mb'.

Once the principle is understood then customers can moan about the FUPs ;-)
Posted by bosie over 9 years ago
I think a large part of the 'up to' problem could be solved if the utility to check true line distance was available during the sign-up process - at least if only to indicate the maximum level of the term 'up to'.
Posted by steflewicki over 9 years ago
I think the idea of 'up to' suggests that one might get reasonably near to it. For instance the max speed of a car might be listed as 120mph and I suppose you'd be happy for it to run at 90 (where it's allowed!) but you'd be rightly peeved if you couldn't ever get it past 30mph...
Posted by kenneth_lad over 9 years ago
I agree with Keith and the others - the real issue are the terms 'unlimited' and 'FUP'. Both widely abused by the major ISPs.
Posted by dgmckenzie over 9 years ago
I feel that "up to 8Mb" when an ISP can artificially keep the speed down. In that case it should be "up to 3Mb" if that is what they slow their Intranet down to.
Posted by dgmckenzie over 9 years ago
Sorry my fingers did not say all the words I though ;-)

I feel that "up to 8Mb" is lying when an ISP can and does keep the speeds lower that what the telephone wires will give.

They should be made to advertise the real maximum speed they are allowing i.e. "up to 5kbps" if that is what they slow their Intranet down to.
Posted by c_j_ over 9 years ago
The modem industry went through this a few years after "56k" modems were introduced. Eventually they (and their adverts), and their matching ISPs, mostly came with an industry standard disclaimer that basically said "56k's just a name, you won't ever get 56k out of it, your speeds will vary, don't call us". Or words to that effect.

Re "unlimited": needs sorting, has done since CBC came in.
Posted by g-bhxu over 9 years ago
Have to agree that the use of "Unlimited" with an FUP is a major issue.

As for the use of "up to". As has been said, you can realistically get a maximum of only 7.2 MB

Should the price you pay be indicitive of the speed you're getting?
Posted by Shadowman2008 over 9 years ago
As stated, the usage of phrases like "unlimited" are for more important! ISP seem to think it means whatever they define it to mean, as opposed to what it actually means! For any ISP reading this: it means UNLIMITED i.e. without limit, not subject to boundaries or conditions! If you (the ISP) don't actually want this to be the case then set a clear, practical limit so that your customers can see it upfront.
Posted by whatever2 over 9 years ago
its really quite simple

"up to" means the possibility of reaching the upper limit. This is wrong, because for some its impossible to reach this for technical reasons, or exchange capacity reasons, or ISP capacity reasons, or ISP FUP reasons. These points need to be raised and not in small print.

Unlimited, up-to, and FUP should be really nailed down by ofcom and ASA or removed. Pandering to this further is insulting by the industry.
Posted by herdwick over 9 years ago
Why do the people who moan about "up to 8M" never have a constructive alternative ?

Unlimited is simple, it means there isn't a limit where you start to pay more or it stops working. If you run an unlimited connection flat out it might slow down or you might be asked to change your behaviour, but you won't get a stonking great bill nor will it stop working when it hits a fixed number. Is that really too hard to understand ? or are you all so in love with your dictionaries that you have suspended the ability to think ?
Posted by ricinus over 9 years ago
People are used to signs in shops saying 'Sale: upto 50% off'. We all know that most items will be less than 50% off. Why is it different with 'upto' on broadband?
I agree that 'Fair Usage' and 'Unlimited' are worse phrases.
Posted by c_j_ over 9 years ago
Like with "56k", the constructive alternative to "up to 8Mb" is HONESTY, and RESPECT FOR THE WAGE-PAYING CUSTOMER.

For example, on the Zen website,

"* Actual Broadband download speeds will be no higher than 7,150Kbps
<snip for brevity>
* Broadband speeds are affected by line length, quality and peak Internet usage periods and will range from 160Kbps to 7150Kbps"

Legal, decent, honest, and truthful.

What is there to not like about that?
Posted by whatever2 over 9 years ago

If i gave you unlimited amounts of money and stopped at a penny you would say what?


If you went into that sale as it opened and found the 50% items were instore credit card only you would say what?

Upto 8mb is what is being offered, not upto 8mb is what some customers are getting...its simple, you avertise what people should get, not what they can't.

If the lottery was sold up to a million to be won (if your name is fred, your 78, have one leg and you bought your ticket on tuesday) then what?
Posted by b1acksun over 9 years ago
c_j's post appears to be a simple way of clarifying the "upto"thing. keith is right as to whats more pressing,the oft abused T&C's FUP and Unlimited. We've seen ISP's abuse of this countless times. A number of us have written to the ASA in regards to Unlimited and its kin FUP - response from ASA (14/3/2008) was: they say there is a code of advertising for sales promotion and direct marketing - list 3 entries which have to conform and then say "The code does not apply to organisations' claims on their own websites.
Posted by b1acksun over 9 years ago
We believe that applying the code to all online claims would go too far into regulating the "relationship" between businesses and the consumer and would, moreover, prove impossible to enforce effectively. Websites are essentially like shops: consumers go to them looking for information, to browse, to buy, and soon, they are virtual premises in other words, sought out by shoppers, rather than advertising created and place as a means to attract attention."

Now lets see what the OFT have to say.
Posted by whatever2 over 9 years ago
So what the ASA are saying is that it's fine to be ripped off in a virtual shop, but not a physical one?

A pretty myopic view given the movement of commerce from the high street to the internet.
Posted by ianwild over 9 years ago
The problem for ISPs is that we're now in an aggressive churners market, and a huge amount of our new customers arrive from comparison sites like Uswitch, Money supermarket etc. Speed is a major factor for consumers, so it's here that the decision is made.

We've been trying really hard to come up with a decent answer to this, but so far we've not hit on anything special (we have a similar disclaimer to Zen but that's all). Maybe the upcoming Ofcom action will force the right answer on all of us - we will have to wait and see.

Ian - PlusNet
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 9 years ago
ian - On this, I just don't see the issue. As long as it's possible to get an 8MBit (and sure, the "actual" speed is lower, but it's industry-standard terms like "hard disk GB" vs "actually useble hard disk space GB"), fine.

Unlimited, now...
Posted by mr_chris over 9 years ago
There is no way of describing it other than taking it down to the bare bones of simply "ADSL Broadband".

Witch hunt, IMO, and something to get their teeth into. "Up to" means exactly that. As long as there is a sufficient disclaimer on the website mentioning that line length will affect actual connection speed, I see no problem with it.

Also, 7150kbps isn't far off the maximum you'd get anyway on an 8128kbps sync. Somehow 7Mb, sorry.. "UP to 7Mb Broadband" doesn't have the same ring to it!
Posted by ianwild over 9 years ago
But for lots of people, 8Mbps will never be a possibility... Anyway, the discussion has inspired my colleague to ask our customers (and anyone else) via a blog on our community site, so I'll save my other suggestions for that :)

Posted by rochea88 over 9 years ago
Surely the real issue here is that we should be able to back out of contracts with ISPs if we are not happy with the speed, customer service or whatever? I am locked into a contract with Virgin which at peak times gives me around 60kbps according to this website's speed tester! The highest I have ever reached is about 1600kbps - at 0730 on a Sunday morning!

Now, I assume this is because of contention on Virgin's network, but there's no way of me knwoing whether it would be any better with another ISP. So, do I take the plunge and change when my minimum term is up?
Posted by spectator over 9 years ago
What happens if we turn the advertised speed around and quote them as 'Below 8Mb', 'Below 16Mb' and 'Below 24Mb' would we still have the same issues? Would people still look at the headline figure?
Posted by mr_chris over 9 years ago
@rochea88 - depends what your problems are - what do you sync at.. have you done a BT speedtest to check your IP profile, are there a lot of errors on your line, etc... or is it simply Virgin's network. Too many variables to give a definitive answer without more info.

@spectator - I really don't think ISPs should have to do that - you see NOTHING else advertised as "Below" a headline figure unless it's price, when people want it to be lower. People would still find a problem with 'below' as it doesn't quantify how much below.. and so it goes on!...
Posted by frankly_me over 9 years ago
Dawn_Falcon - I don't see your point. Usable disk space is invariably close to actual hard-disk size, and we know that a small amount (maybe 5%) is unusable. With "up to" we have no idea whatsoever what the speed will be. We might never see as much as 20% of the "up to" speed. Not good enough, and highly misleading.
Even more misleading when signing-up, and certain ISP's (such as mine), perform non-existent "line tests" and tell lies.
Posted by grapevine1 over 9 years ago
If you go to the garage for petrol would you buy from the pump that said up to 95 octain if the next pump said 95 octain and that was checked by weights and measures at any time.
Would you pay for your broadband connection if you could never be sure you could switch on and it would work, would you expect or demand a refund if you did receive "short measure" if your beer contained no alcohol(when it said 4.5% on the bottle.
Posted by grapevine1 over 9 years ago
Broadband has now come of age, are we to accept that we pay for an intermitent, iregular or heavily contended or traffic managed broadband connection. If there is no one that you can report the suplier to, you are agreing to a rip off Britain. If you are affected or feel you have been ripped off make sure you write to your MP giving the facts. The consumers in this country fought hard to get trading standards, how can any company be allowed to trade without you the consumer knowing what exactly you are paying for.
Posted by frankly_me over 9 years ago
Another thought... Virtually all ISP's use the phrase "up to 8Mb", or whatever. And they all know that it means precisely nothing in real terms, as a guide to speed. So why would they use a meaningless phrase in their advertising?
Because it is misleading, but legal.
Is it really that technologically difficult to devise a method whereby you pay for what you actually get? I doubt it... but it ain't gonna happen anytime soon!
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 9 years ago
Paying for what you get is what many providers do, if I download more than my usage allowance I pay more. So I pay for what I get?

Should someone by quirk of where they live be forced to pay more on a rate adaptive product? Or should rate adaption be abolished?
Posted by davcop over 9 years ago
The most infuriating thing about the 'up to' debate is that all customers, on say BT's max product, are paying the same £25. If I get a fifth of some other customers service I should only pay a fifth. If customers paid pro rata to what they receive this might be a spur to improve the service
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 9 years ago
Why? For a lot of costs like customer service, you're not necessarily cheaper. Maybe in the region of 15-20% off, and a speed cap on the account that any future faster tech would require a payment to remove so you could use... realistically.

andrew - Most providers don't, though. They warn people consistantly exceeding the limits, or cap speeds once it's reached.
Posted by andrew (Favicon staff member) over 9 years ago
To Dawn Falcon.

There in may be a solution to the problem, lose unlimited and force all packages to have an upper GB limit, be that 5GB or 500GB and charge beyond that. Electricity is all PAYG - so why not broadband
Posted by mr_chris over 9 years ago
Quote: "...would you buy from the pump that said up to 95 octain if the next pump said 95 octain..."

Not a good comparison. This isn't about whether providers should use "up to" or not - it's about whether "up to" is sufficient to describe contended.
Posted by mr_chris over 9 years ago
"Broadband has now come of age, are we to accept that we pay for an intermitent, iregular or heavily contended or traffic managed broadband connection."

You can't put intermittent and irregular, and contention/traffic management together. Both are separate issues.

Intermittent/irregular is the phone line and is a fault that should be fixed.

Contention and traffic management are basically what we get for driving the price down and paying £14.99 or whatever for a connection that some people expect leased line performance from. Nothing to do with this article anyway.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 9 years ago
Andrew, forcing business measures like that is quite simply a bad idea. I was pointing out that most providers don't chose to do it (except 3G ones). The issue of deceptive advertising is entirely seperate from the technical issues of service overage.
Posted by spectator over 9 years ago
What I find interesting in the debate is the issues regarding people paying the same regardless of speed. Originally UK broadband was priced like that until BTW changed their pricing model to charge more for greater bandwidth rather than faster exchange ports. Maybe we'll go full circle.
Posted by Shadowman2008 over 9 years ago

Good solution! Provided you're given a method of monitoring (such as Entanet do), then everyone would see it as fair!

Of course, then people would start arguing about what download limits were reasonable....!
Posted by brett7 over 9 years ago
If the speed is related to the line length, there should be a requirement that the ISP will/can tell you your line length (or the speed they can supply on it) before starting the provision. Its all far too mysterious...

But all this is not as bad as the awful customer service (I've signed up with Tiscali on April 1 (hmm), have made about 30 calls to their 'customer service' and sales and still don't have broadband and don't know when I'm getting it). I switched to them because this is what happened with Virgin Media. We need some real competition.
Posted by grapevine1 over 9 years ago
Well I have to admit that I spent last Friday along with 25 others invited to an Openday with Plusnet at their HQ in Shefield, NO question was evaded, all were totally open in all departments and Ive been to a lot of places round the world, i believe they really are attempting to give the service that all should expect, are they let down YES by the quality of the twisted copper pairs, and because I am blunt or maybe because I have been lucky to dine each week at the best restaurants in the world - their food - it was free and it I am told is free to the staff also.
Posted by grapevine1 over 9 years ago
The Plusnet website contains to much information but they do appear to be the most transparent that I have seen and they do try, even when the going gets tough. I'm not known for my credits, but I do so when I see an attempt. If you are getting problems take a look at them and Im not in their pay!
Posted by shezaad over 9 years ago
I think what people mean with this issue is that when they sign up for ADSL broadband, the ISP check their phone line and based on the information provided by BT, they are told that they will be getting say, 5Mbps out of the 'up to' 8Mbps. I don't really know what these 'tests' are based on, probably just line length, but in my case, it was accurate. My ISP said I will get 6.5Mbps out of 8Mbps, and I am getting that speed.
Posted by michaels_perry over 9 years ago
The big problem with "up to 8 Mbps" is that so many can't get anything like it so feel 'cheated' when they 'only' get 2 Mbps download rate.
It's a matter of a perception having been built in the minds of non-technical buyers, that leads to the expectation of a 'fast' service that the technology, such as ADSL Max, just cannot deliver.
Marketing claims lead to customer disappointment - again! Cause? Lack of knowledge and honesty in the marketeers.
Posted by pingman over 9 years ago
BE broaband told me that I am abel to get their 'up to' 24mb pacakge on my line. So i gleefully handed over the monies for a 24mb onnection and am only getting 5mb. Irresponsible selling as they should have informed me that I could only get that speed before I paid them so I coul of switched to their 'up to' 8mb package which is about 1/2 the price.
Posted by andyv over 9 years ago
People have to do their own research,(I’m playing devils advocate here) ford say my car will do up to 140mph but when I’m stuck in a traffic jam on the M5 I don’t expect to do 140mph, and it's the same with the internet and connection speeds, do your research check out your line length and use the tools available on the net like
Posted by caradoc over 9 years ago
If ISPs advertise 'up to 8Mbps' there should be a reasonable expectation that this could be achieved provided there are no unusual adverse conditions. I work in a brand new business park with brand new copper in the ground. I am very close to an exchange, but because BT (my ISP) route my connection over a very long route - presumably because it has little other traffic over it - I only get just less than 2Mbps. It is misleading and unacceptable for them to advertise in tis way, when they control my outcome. Most ISPs seem to operate in this very slipshod manner.
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 9 years ago
pingman - See, this is a common misconception. You would not - you'd be getting no more than 3MBps on the slower package, if that.

Caradoc - Then ISP's can't advertise speed, peroid. Because there is no way they can predict individual line conditions, houses internal wiring can make a massive difference. i.e. The current situation is reasonable.
Posted by pigfister over 9 years ago
i am with demon internet now, before that i was with ukonline (both ipstream). with ukonline i had an average speed of 6 1/2mbps with demon i get an average of 2 1/2mbps, demon state that i have developed a fault on my line/or my equipment the day i switched providers and seems the speed was above 400kbps they would not investigate the matter!

imho upto 8 meg depends on weather the isp you are with wants to save costs or give you a decent service!
Posted by billyarrow over 9 years ago
Tiscali said that having checked my line for "up to 8Mbps", I could expect about6.5Mbps. I have tested fairly frequently, at different times, and the top speed I've ever seen was about 3.5Mbps, with some down to around 500Kbps!
Posted by Tfoale over 9 years ago
Your network connection has several bits. You may be able to get 'up to' 8 Mbps line speed on your DSL line from the BT exchange, but it is delay that controls the data rate you actually see to any of the services you use, and delay is heavily dependent on the current contention you are experiencing. If your round trip delay is more than 60ms the maximum throughput you will get on any one stream is 2Mbps, more than 150ms you will only get 1Mbps.
Posted by ralphr over 9 years ago
It is ridiculous. I am with Zen, who offer a good service, in fact in 2 years I have not had a problem.

However, they do off er an 2Up To" 8 mbs which I subscribe to.

On checking with my local exchange, I am told that the best I can expect is 4Mbs, the best that I have received is approx 3.8Mbs, within the last few minutes I was receiving 1.8Mbs. Believe it or not, I have been as slow as 0.187 Mbs.


Ralph Richardson
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 9 years ago
I take it everyone who's complaining about speeds has installed a proper faceplate, and is thus not suffering wiring issues... In my experience that's by far the most common cause of drastically slower-than-expected speeds.

As for slower speeds at peak time, don't automatically blame BT. A lot of ISP's run very high contention ratios on their internal networks, and if you run some tracerts it can be very revealing...
Posted by Mr_Fluffy over 9 years ago
Ian Wild said, "..Speed is a major factor for consumers, so it's here that the decision is made.

We've been trying really hard to come up with a decent answer to this, but so far we've not hit on anything special (we have a similar disclaimer to Zen but that's all). Maybe the upcoming Ofcom action will force the right answer on all of us - we will have to wait and see.

Ian - PlusNet"
Posted by Mr_Fluffy over 9 years ago
When I was with Plusnet my line allowed me to connect at 8Mbps (when MaxDSL didn't crank connection speed down for a few days because of its quirks) but I could seldom get d/l speeds above 3Mbps!

Now I'm on Be, the same line syncs consistently at 15-17Mbps and d/l speeds are 13-14Mbps!

Look to PlusNet's infrastructure and Ellacoyas, Ian!
Posted by greenius over 9 years ago
Maybe a better analogy is cars that have fuel consumption 'up to X miles per gallon'. The actual miles you get depend on how and where you drive the car. Drive in a congested city (use internet at peak times) and you get a lower rate, drive on a long straight empty road at 3am at 55mph (download big files from a reliable server at off peak times) and you may get something close.

Maybe the contention ratio should be more heavily featured in the advertisements instead of just the maximum download speed.
Posted by Mr_Fluffy over 9 years ago
The trouble with the car analogy is that we have the technology to provide an almost unpopulated route for everyone, yet many are stuck on a virtual M25.

There's not even the excuse of a lack of "real estate" for providing the routes we need, just a lack of will amongst BT and most ISPs to make the necessary investment in sufficient fibre!
Posted by zathrasb5 over 9 years ago
OK - heres the deal. If I can get up to 8M then the ISP can get up to the £20 they are charging me. THIS is the real issue, it doesn't matter what your speed is, you should only pay for what you get - not a standard rate.
Posted by davkel over 9 years ago
12:27 AM,30 Apr 2008

For what it is worth, I used to get 1.1 MB or thereabouts from Metronet until I got a new cable underground in my garden, and cleared out the mouse nest in the box. Now I get 7.6 as a rule, and never less than 6.8. This is not the true speed, of course. I get about 2 to 4 MB on actual test downloads with the very small files used on the test sites. My experience with the DU Meter used to show that speeds varied quite widely, and normally reached a peak after a few minutes of downloading, so the test sites may not reflect the true average speed.

David Kelsey
Posted by Dawn_Falcon over 9 years ago
zathrasb5 - Fine. So... if you get half the speed, they'll knock £3 off your monthly bill and put a cap on your speed. If tech advances? That'll be (£"saved"+100%) plz!
Posted by c_j_ over 9 years ago
"Your network connection has several bits ... 'up to' 8 Mbps line speed on your DSL line from the BT exchange"


"it is delay that controls the data rate you actually see to any of the services you use"

Not correct. You can get maxed-out throughput from the US (with high delay), in the right circumstances.

"delay is heavily dependent on the current contention you are experiencing."

Correctish. The throughput you will achieve is limited by the narrowest bit of the whole end to end chain. Delay goes up, and throughput goes down, as congestion gets worse.
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