Eircom and UTV - Dubious Advertising(Sum-up: UTV's site, and most of Eircom's site, (presumably accidentally) claim that their products are eight times as fast as they actually are)
First, a basic primer. I would more or less assume that anybody who visits my blog knows this, but you never know... There are eight bits in a byte. A megabit is a million bits. A megabyte is a million bytes. Mebibits and such silliness are excluded from this discussion due to not making enough difference to anything to be interesting.
Megabit is commonly abbreviated Mbit or mbit, though its correct abbreviation is Mb. Megabyte is correctly abbreviated MB, but in practice Mb and mb are often seen.
Now, at some point, all significant Irish telecoms shifted to advertising their products in terms of Mb. This is unfortunate; it could at first glance be taken to mean 'megabyte', and most consumers, of course, don't really know the difference. They just know that their software download, say, in expressed in terms of 'MB' (or maybe 'mb'; many non-telecom sites aren't nearly so scrupulous about the abbreviations) and that looks similar to 'Mb'. In my opinion, it would be more honest of them to use 'mbit' or the word megabit, or at least to provide a glossary to let people know the difference between megabit and megabyte, but it's not as if they're lying.
Interestingly, Smart Telecom's forum contains lots of posts from users talking about speeds in multiple megaBYTES (expressed in MB). It's clear that at least some consumers are confused, though whether by the terminology used in the site or not I don't know. It doesn't help that Smart's site is full of improper uses of capitalisation and punctuation. Clearly a proofreader never laid eyes on it.
So far so dubious; no-one's actually published anything incorrect, right? Well, cast your eyes over this. It's a spec sheet for an eircom DSL product (which doesn't render properly in Safari; this seems to be a common problem for our great telecoms). Note that while the image give speed in Mb (megabits), the text gives speed in MB (megabytes). Repeated a number of times, mind you, and in bold in one case. The product, in case you were wondering, is a 2 megabit DSL line.
Okay, isolated one-off, right? Well, not quite. All their home and business DSL lines are described on at least some pages as being multi-megabyte-per-second lines; none of them are.
And that leads us on to the unpleasant subject of UTV. All bandwidth specifications use 'MB', where they should use 'Mb' or similar, even in the terms and conditions. That is, they appear to be claiming that they are providing multi-megabyte connections in their home packages. Interestingly, the terms and conditions also mention that they reserve the write to charge you for excess data transfer at "1.26c per Mb". Surely not? Their data transfer quota is expressed in bytes, and from what I've heard people are actually charged 1.26 cent per megaBYTE.
So, none of this is a big deal, you might say. After all, everyone will know what is really meant. Well, in many countries DSL connections running at 24 megabits per second - 3 megabytes per second - are fairly commonplace. People coming from there won't know that Irish ISPs like to occasionally use megabyte to mean megabit. Imagine, say, that you bought a hundred gallons of oil, only to be told that when they said gallons in the ad, they actually meant pints. You wouldn't be happy. You'd probably complain to someone.
The question, then, is simple; why the incorrect units on the eircom and UTV sites? Three possible explanations leap to mind - typographical error, simple incompetence, and actual intention to deceive the prospective customer. Typographical error seems improbable; the incorrect units are used quite a lot, universally on the UTV site. Intention to deceive also seems highly improbable; the telecoms are, after all, under quite a bit of scrutiny. So we're left with incompetence, which doesn't seem so unlikely. After all, the copy-writing seen on the sites is clearly not the work of a great mind, and the sites themselves are generally disorganised, crazy, and do not describe the product sufficiently.
Since I'm, basically, nice at heart, I have dispatched a warning email deep into the caverns of each telecom's support system. (For eircom, in particular, I had to spend a few minutes searching to find a form or email address to do this). Eircom were good enough to send TWO automated messages in reply, whereas UTV's computer rudely ignored me, though I suppose theoretically a human may see it eventually. I'll check back in a week or so to see if things have improved. If some idiot emails back saying there is no problem, I will be most peeved.
It only goes to show, though, that you have to be very careful reading technical specifications. Here, many of them turn out to be flat-out wrong.
Update: Eircom have somewhat fixed their site. UTV continue to live in sin.