Sweden to Cell Carriers: Put up or Shut up on Speed Claims

The Swedish Consumer Ombudsman has decided that local mobile operators shouldn't promise a certain maximum speed -- for example, saying "up to" 7.2M bps -- in their marketing if they can't consistently meet the claim.

The reason is simply that the operators can never live up to the maximum speed. The operators have in the past defended themselves by saying that everyone uses the same marketing tactic, but that doesn't cut it, according to the Consumer Ombudsman, who wants to make it easier for consumers to understand what they are actually getting.

A Swedish site called Bredbandskollen, or The Broadband Check, shows how far from the actual capacity the maximum numbers are and allows users to test their bandwidth. In April, 20 percent of users subscribing to a "up to 7.2M bps" service received less than 10 percent of the maximum speed.

Swedish operators -- Tele2, 3 and TeliaSonera -- have until May 25 to comply, and if they don't the issue will end up in the Swedish Market Court, which judges the propriety of marketing claims, according to its Web site.

But the operators seem amendable to the idea, as long as the competition does the same, according to spokesmen at TeliaSonera and 3. How the operators will market mobile Internet after May 25 remains to be seen, but TeliaSonera has already started to move away from using the maximum bandwidth claims in its marketing, and instead started promoting coverage capacity, for example, according to a spokesman.

Sweden probably won't be the only country where operators will have to change their marketing ways. More countries are expected to do the same in the next couple of years, according to Shaun Collins, analyst at CCS Insight.

The difference between the maximum bandwidth and what users actually get isn't a problem in just mobile network. It's also an issue in fixed networks, according to Collins.

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