Email Delivery

Receive new posts as email.

Email address

Syndicate this site

RSS | Atom


About This Site
Contact Us
Privacy Policy


November 2010
Sun Mon Tues Wed Thurs Fri Sat
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30        

Stories by Category

Basics :: Basics
Casting :: Casting Listen In Podcasts Videocasts
Culture :: Culture Hacking
Deals :: Deals
Future :: Future
Hardware :: Hardware Adapters Appliances Chips Consumer Electronics Gaming Home Entertainment Music Photography Video Gadgets Mesh Monitoring and Testing PDAs Phones Smartphones
Industry :: Industry Conferences Financial Free Health Legal Research Vendor analysis
International :: International
Media :: Media Locally cached Streaming
Metro-Scale Networks :: Metro-Scale Networks Community Networking Municipal
Network Types :: Network Types Broadband Wireless Cellular 2.5G and 3G 4G Power Line Satellite
News :: News Mainstream Media
Politics :: Politics Regulation Sock Puppets
Schedules :: Schedules
Security :: Security 802.1X
Site Specific :: Site Specific Administrative Detail April Fool's Blogging Book review Cluelessness Guest Commentary History Humor Self-Promotion Unique Wee-Fi Who's Hot Today?
Software :: Software Open Source
Spectrum :: Spectrum 60 GHz
Standards :: Standards 802.11a 802.11ac 802.11ad 802.11e 802.11g 802.11n 802.20 Bluetooth MIMO UWB WiGig WiMAX ZigBee
Transportation and Lodging :: Transportation and Lodging Air Travel Aquatic Commuting Hotels Rails
Unclassified :: Unclassified
Vertical Markets :: Vertical Markets Academia Enterprise WLAN Switches Home Hot Spot Aggregators Hot Spot Advertising Road Warrior Roaming Libraries Location Medical Public Safety Residential Rural SOHO Small-Medium Sized Business Universities Utilities wISP
Voice :: Voice


November 2010 | October 2010 | September 2010 | August 2010 | July 2010 | June 2010 | May 2010 | April 2010 | March 2010 | February 2010 | January 2010 | December 2009 | November 2009 | October 2009 | September 2009 | August 2009 | July 2009 | June 2009 | May 2009 | April 2009 | March 2009 | February 2009 | January 2009 | December 2008 | November 2008 | October 2008 | September 2008 | August 2008 | July 2008 | June 2008 | May 2008 | April 2008 | March 2008 | February 2008 | January 2008 | December 2007 | November 2007 | October 2007 | September 2007 | August 2007 | July 2007 | June 2007 | May 2007 | April 2007 | March 2007 | February 2007 | January 2007 | December 2006 | November 2006 | October 2006 | September 2006 | August 2006 | July 2006 | June 2006 | May 2006 | April 2006 | March 2006 | February 2006 | January 2006 | December 2005 | November 2005 | October 2005 | September 2005 | August 2005 | July 2005 | June 2005 | May 2005 | April 2005 | March 2005 | February 2005 | January 2005 | December 2004 | November 2004 | October 2004 | September 2004 | August 2004 | July 2004 | June 2004 | May 2004 | April 2004 | March 2004 | February 2004 | January 2004 | December 2003 | November 2003 | October 2003 | September 2003 | August 2003 | July 2003 | June 2003 | May 2003 | April 2003 | March 2003 | February 2003 | January 2003 | December 2002 | November 2002 | October 2002 | September 2002 | August 2002 | July 2002 | June 2002 | May 2002 | April 2002 | March 2002 | February 2002 | January 2002 | December 2001 | November 2001 | October 2001 | September 2001 | August 2001 | July 2001 | June 2001 | May 2001 | April 2001 |

Recent Entries

In-Flight Wi-Fi and In-Flight Bombs
Can WPA Protect against Firesheep on Same Network?
Southwest Sets In-Flight Wi-Fi at $5
Eye-Fi Adds a View for Web Access
Firesheep Makes Sidejacking Easy
Wi-Fi Direct Certification Starts
Decaf on the Starbucks Digital Network
Google Did Snag Passwords
WiMax and LTE Not Technically 4G by ITU Standards
AT&T Wi-Fi Connections Keep High Growth with Free Service

Site Philosophy

This site operates as an independent editorial operation. Advertising, sponsorships, and other non-editorial materials represent the opinions and messages of their respective origins, and not of the site operator. Part of the FM Tech advertising network.


Entire site and all contents except otherwise noted © Copyright 2001-2010 by Glenn Fleishman. Some images ©2006 Jupiterimages Corporation. All rights reserved. Please contact us for reprint rights. Linking is, of course, free and encouraged.

Powered by
Movable Type

« AT&T Remembers to Mention, Not Bundle Hotspot Access with Blackberry 8820 | Main | Metro Round-Up: Subway-Fi, Mainstream Muni-Fail Articles, Roanoke Fizzles »

September 19, 2007

The End of Unlimited as a Modifiable Noun

Unlimited means unlimited, except in the cell world: Apple signed on to the embarrassing doublespeak of the cellular telephone industry yesterday in its launch with UK cell carrier O2 of the iPhone in Britain. O2 added Wi-Fi to the mix via The Cloud's 7,500 locations as part of the included price in any of three reported plans for service, which start at £35 for 200 minutes of calls and 200 SMS messages. The data plans for EDGE and Wi-Fi are "unlimited" not unlimited. The footnote on O2's information page says that unlimited "fair usage" is included. But that's just garbage.

Just like Verizon's definition of "unlimited BroadbandAccess" meaning "about 5 GB a month regardless of your use, and we'll pretend you're using it illegitimately if you exceed that amount even if you're using it for purposes we define," O2 is playing games. It's not unlimited. It's a limited, unmetered service. You are not paying per byte, but they have a number in their systems, which the company head defined at a press event yesterday as "no more than 1,400 Web page downloads" per day.

Examining O2's site, I can find no specific mention as to what fair usage constitutes for an iPhone. The BlackBerry plan includes just 75 MB per month as part of unlimited fair usage. A special "1024" plan includes 1 GB per month in that definition

The lack of a definition, and the weasel-like nature of redefining a perfectly straightforward word to create market confusion and deception, in which customers are incapable of knowing what's meant even after they sign up for service, is despicable.

Apple should know better.

I would like to call for a set of consumer complaints against the misuse of this term. Any time you see the word "unlimited" used with a proviso or asterisk, write your national regulator or advertising standards board and complain. There's misuse of unlimited privileges, which I can understand: someone using a service in contravention of reasonable terms. But that's not what cell companies mean. They mean, whatever you're doing, however reasonable, we set the limit in unlimited.



"Unlimited" is not the same as "infinite".

Unmetered services typically see modest use by most users and then a few users that try to use as much of the service as they possibly can. This means that sometimes half of the capacity is used by only a few percent of all users. A service provider can either ignore this issue and let all users pay for the excessive use of a few of them, or try to curb the use of the most active users.

I prefer the latter, assuming that "excessive" is truly "excessive" and not just "slightly higher than average".

That's just what the carriers would say!

Seriously, though, we're not talking about the difference being reasonable and excessive use. The carriers have provisions in their contracts that also govern excessive use. We're talking about a well-defined but undisclosed limit that a person who makes moderate use of the Internet on a routine basis on the road could easily exceed. Or not if they were about to exceed.

That's a simple matter of stating expectations from contracted customers, and then explaining to customers what will happen if those expectations are exceeded.

By not stating limits, the carriers want their cake (using the word unlimited) and eat it, too (cancel accounts that they choose to for their own reasons).

Protesting misuse of words:
We needed to start this 5 years ago when the CellCo folks decided their 512kbps data service was Broadband.

Iljitchs: "'Unlimited' is not the same as 'infinite'"? Really? The Random House dictionary, American Heritage dictionary, and Roget's thesaurus all disagree; I decided to not waste time checking others.

I understand the point you're making: in an unmetered service, the majority of users will end up subsidizing a few people who use much much more of the service. It's called the Pareto principle.

The solution, however, is not to come up with some Newspeak redefinition of "unlimited". It's for the cell companies to be honest: there are limits that are, in theory, higher than the vast majority of people's usage.

The mathematical definition of infinite is based on the fact that you can always find a higher number, in other words there is no limit. So in its most fundamental sense, unlimited means infinite.

Anyway, it is a problem of deception: unlimited implies that there is no limit, and those marketing claims are just lies.

I agree with Iljitsch, and am willing to take a wait-and-see policy.

I think they are just leaving themselves a loophole to deal with assholes who abuse the system, just like the people who try to set up ISP businesses on their cable connections.

[Editor's note: It's not exclusive to O2. It's reasonable for them to state specific limits for services, which they do for BlackBerry and a few other plans. But every carrier tries to have their cake and eat it, too. Just disclose, for crying out loud. If your customers hate it, there's a reason. -gf]

Iljitsch, I think few people are arguing that service providers should not cap excessive use if it will adversely affect the service for other users. The argument, rather, is that the service is therefore not "unlimited" and they should not advertise it as such, and should say what the limit actually is in order to allow people to make an informed decision about whether the service is suitable for their requirements.

From perusing several UK cellphone sites, it seems that "fair usage" has usually been attached to the word "unlimited", even before the iPhone. And it's difficult to find what that is on those sites, and it seems to have different meanings in different contracts.

I'll say that Apple should've fought to clean up that language before agreeing to sign on with O2, or any other carrier. (Although it's possible that they did, but that there's just no way around it short of starting your own carrier.)

I complained the Advertising Standards Agency in the UK about this practice (in particular about Vodaphone and their "unlimited" package). The ASA claimed that since it was on the companies own website it did not constitute an "advert" if you can believe that.

Also in UK, T-Mobile offer an "Unlimited" data option. They offer three tiers of "Unlimited".

All their plans are limited to 1GB of data in a month, and whilst they don't cut you off upon exceeding that amount, they reserve the right to slow and impair your service if you go over. They reserve the right to kick you off if you go over in repeated months.

The tiering of "unlimited" works differently, concerning limits in what you may use the "unlimited" data for. The base, least expensive tier, allows web browsing and email on your handset, the second entitles you to use Instant Messaging applications, the third and most expensive "unlimited" bolt on entitles you to use your phone as a Bluetooth modem and to use VoIP services.

All uses of "Unlimited" are followed by asterisks.

In practice, they simply hope that a limit of 1GB is way above what the average consumer is capable of using on a mobile phone: The lack of much in the way of music or video downloads in the UK means that's a pretty fair assumption. Of course, a pretty fair assumption does not entitle them to mis-use the word.

O2 have been later to the high-allowance data game in the UK though: The introduction of the iPhone also marks the introduction of their data plans. Previously their data allowance came measured in single digit megabytes. With T-Mobile already having set the marketing bar with "unlimited" usage, O2 probably didn't have a huge amount of option but to follow suit.

Vodaphone UK only offer 120MB allowances though, and don't use the word "unlimited" in their branding.

The Advertising Standards Authority have looked into this in the UK, and here's their position:

"Something can be described as "unlimited" even if a fair-use policy exists. However, the existence of the fair-use policy should be stated in the ad, and the policy should only be invoked to prevent misuse of the service."

This is just a licence for companies to give whatever limits they like but still say things are "unlimited", and makes me wonder what the point is of having an Advertising Standards Authority in the first place. The Authority's only power seems to be to punish companies who leave off the small print specifying the fair use in their adverts.

Rather horrible, the ASA's position. The fact that "fair usage" without a definition of what means would seem to be the whole point of requiring disclosure of fair usage! Thanks for posting that, Phil.

I must have gone to a different set of English language classes to the rest of the mobile phone ceo's etc. I thought the definition of unlimited was "without limits". if a service has boundaries of any type it is 'limited'. it is actually - despite what the quango asa say - a false claim ? They should be forced to re-specify the wording - I love Apple products but why does the phone need to be tied to any network ? microsoftitus I think is spreading to Cupertino - Shudder !!

It's 200MB. That's the unlimited amount that they view as Fair!!

It's been like that in the UK for a while now. Not so much Apple's fault as O2's. All the UK mobile phone providers do it, and our broadband industry is even worse.

We have 'Unlimited' broadband packages with horribly low caps, even the best ones are only about 30Gb a month, which is 1Gb a day, which is nothing.