Mobile broadband service providers in the UK are set to sign up to a new voluntary code of conduct over advertised headline speeds for their services (see article in The Guardian). I'm sceptical.
It is true that up to now advertised speeds have been something of a joke. There is no way that MNOs can make reliable claims of 1.8, 3.6 or 7.2 Mbit/s when local environmental conditions (e.g. topography, distance from basestation, thickness of walls, contention) will have a massive impact on user experience. Arguably, environmental issues have a greater impact than the variety of HSPA that happens to be implemented in the local base station. In the UK even though MNOs are at different stages with the HSPA roll out (i.e. some at only 1.8Mbit/s while others provide 7.2Mbit/s), there is no consensus over which one provides the best speeds. Clearly local factors dominate in determining the user experience.
DSL providers implemented a code of practice in 2008 in the face of a threat of legislation from Ofcom. However, DSL speeds are far more predictable than mobile broadband. Any guidance from mobile operators on mobile broadband speeds will either be inaccurate or so complicated as to render them useless.
Users will have to get used to the fact that "up to" really does mean "up to". Any other definition would be a nonsense. However, MNOs do have a responsibility to ensure that they are saying "up to" and that the claimed speeds are at least possible. In 2008 Vodafone went to market with a headline rate of 7.2Mbit/s when that rate was limited to a selection of UK airports and roughly the area covered by the London congestion charge. In October the Advertising Standards Authority told them to stop it. Clearly the mobile industry needs to avoid the situation where an MNO can deploy a single LTE basestation and claim to have 43MBit/s, or even "up to 43Mbit/s". But, as the Vodafone example demonstrates, the ASA is more than capable of dealing with these kinds of issues.