- 21 Apr 08, 15:50 GMT
How fast can you go with one of those dongles that give you mobile broadband and which have had an extarordinary impact on the data flowing across mobile networks? A war of words has broken out over the speed issue, with one mobile network reporting another to the Advertising Standards Authority.
The row is over Vodafone's big promotion of its mobile broadband offering which promises speeds of "up to 7.2 Mbps". The complaint comes from 3 - a much smaller operator than Vodafone, but one even keener to flog its own wireless broadband offering.
3 says the ads give the impression that users can (and will) reach speeds of 7.2Mbps, whereas that is extremely rare - if not impossible. It says it's advising its own customers that they'll get 1-2Mbps on a 7.2Mbps dongle.
A quick call to Vodafone reveals that they agree that 7.2Mbps is very unlikely, though they claim that in exceptional circumstances users may get that speed in "momentary bursts". They claim that they offer a more solid and reliable service than their rivals - indeed they pointed me towards customer reviews which said the Vodfaone service was a lot faster than that offered by 3.
Their best guess for the speed customers will actually experience is "between 1 and 5Mbps", and they say users are happy about that. "We do manage expectations in our promotional material and at point of sale," a spokeswoman told me.
I popped into a Vodafone store for one of their brochures and could not find any of that "expectation management" apart from some very small print that says "subject to network coverage." So will the Advertising Standards Authority wave a big stick at Vodafone?
Unlikely in the extreme.
After all, when there was similar criticism of the way fixed broadband speeds were advertised, the ad watchdog batted the complaints back to the media regulator Ofcom. A spokeswoman at the ASA told me the issue was "very complicated", indicating it was well nigh impossible to work out a fair way of describing likely broadband speeds when there were so many variables.
Many of you may say that most customers are now so clued up that they will know that "up to 7.2Mbps" actually means around 2Mbps out there in the real world. Well, maybe, but the real problem is that the mobile operators are now beginning to market their offerings as a real alternative to fixed-line broadband.
So what those who are pondering giving up the fixed line really need to know is this - if I'm watch streaming video on my laptop at home, will a 7.2Mbps dongle give me something roughly similar to 8Mbps fixed broadband? Or will Gavin and Stacey freeze in mid-flow?
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