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O2: Unlimited means less than 35megs

Wednesday, 19 September 2007 o2 rant

Another day, another "unlimited" claim. This time from the mouth of O2’s CEO regarding their new "unlimited" data plans. What he didn’t tell people at the iPhone unveiling is that unlimited actually means just 35megs. Spot the difference.

I’ve been considering writing about the abuse of the word “unlimited” for a while and the unveiling of the UK iPhone yesterday has finally pushed me over the edge.

In the Q&A session after the presentation, O2 CEO, Matthew Key was asked “does unlimited usage truly mean unlimited?”. It’s an excellent question because unlimited never means unlimited. It’s no practical and we all know it, yet companies still use the word to describe things, often accompanied with an asterisk, a footer and a link to a fair usage policy. Sure enough, Key’s response:

There is a limit: 1,400 internet pages per day would break the deal as part of fair usage agreement.

So skipping over the unlimited-with-a-limit part, what does 1,400 pages actually get you? This is important because downloading web pages is the least of my bandwidth consumption. My n95 gets my podcasts and streams film from my computer so if, when O2 upgrades all its customers to “unlimited” data plans, I need to know what I’m actually getting.

I could make up my own figures based on the weight of existing web-pages and use that but thankfully O2 already have published numbers saying what each megabyte gets you: 40 pages — a figure reiterated on the introduction letter that customers get sent in their first month. A bit of jiggery-pokery and you can see that 1,400 pages = 35megs.

As a daily browsing limit that’s actually not so bad but there is one big loophole that O2 could still exploit to bring this figure down. Notice what Key said:

1,400 internet pages per day would break the deal

So what doesn’t break the deal? 1,399? Or 12? So what you’re really allowed to use is less than 35megs a day. Who knows what the real figure is going to be…

This abuse of “unlimited” isn’t uncommon and 35megs a day isn’t strange — it works out at around a gig a month. If you dig through the fair usage policies of other mobile operators you’ll see that it’s perfectly in-line with the industry. What I take offence with is that this isn’t, by any means, unlimited.

This is all exacerbated when you have a 3G connection and you can download things at 1.4Mbps. You could very easily use your daily bandwidth limit with 10 minutes of streaming video.

Using “unlimited” should be banned unless the service provider actually means to allow unlimited usage — something they can’t do anyway. If they mean 1gig per month, they should say 1gig per month and not pussyfoot around.