Want to go online as much as you like, without worrying about how much data you’re using? An unlimited broadband package should do you right. Here’s everything you need to know…
Unlimited broadband explained
Everything you do online, from browsing to playing games to using Facebook, consumes data. Watch a show on BBC iPlayer, you’ve downloaded a few hundred megabytes at least. Watch an HD movie, and you’ve gorged on gigabytes.
Some broadband packages limit how much you can download each month, meaning you have to be a little careful about what you do online. But not unlimited broadband packages - these let you watch, play and surf to your heart’s content, without worrying about how much you’re downloading. Think of it as peace-of-mind internet.
Is unlimited broadband right for you?
For some people - typically those who use the internet intensively, families and those who are part of a house-share - unlimited broadband is the answer to their prayers. For people who mainly use the web for browsing, sending emails and checking Facebook, a cheaper package with a usage limit will likely be fine.
But do you need unlimited broadband? Well, it’ll certainly make life easier if you:
- Have a big household, with everyone online
- Watch catch-up TV on the likes of BBC iPlayer
- Stream films on Netflix, NOW TV and so on
- Download video games or play them online
- Stream music using services such as Spotify
- Have an internet-connected TV box like YouView
If you do one or more of these sounds like you, unlimited broadband will be brilliant. For the best experience possible, get an unlimited fibre optic broadband package. That way you’ll be able to do what you want online without being stymied by a monthly usage limit or slow speeds.
What’s traffic management?
Also known as traffic shaping or traffic prioritisation, traffic management is when providers influence traffic on their networks. It’s used on some unlimited broadband packages, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
If loads of people in the same area are online at the same time, the network can get congested and speeds plummet. To get around this, some providers slow certain types of online activity - such as file-sharing - and prioritise others - like catch-up TV or gaming - to ensure you get a decent level of service.
What’s a fair use policy?
A fair usage policy is what dictates when traffic management is used - all providers have one. They set out how much you’re allowed to download each month - even on unlimited broadband - before the provider slows down your connection or takes other measures. For the vast majority of people they’re nothing to worry about - the limits are usually extremely high, considerably more than most people would use - but if you do serious amounts of downloading and streaming it’s something to be aware of.
What unlimited broadband packages are available?
Just about every provider offers unlimited broadband, so you’re not be short of choice. There are a few things to watch out for though. For one thing, providers’ idea of what ‘unlimited’ means differs. As such, unlimited broadband packages can be split into two categories - ‘truly unlimited’ and plain old ‘unlimited’.
Truly unlimited broadband
We define ‘truly unlimited’ broadband as packages with no usage caps and no network-wide traffic management. That means you can download as much as you like without your provider ever artificially slowing down your connection.
The downside of that is if lots of people with the same provider in your area are online at the same time, speeds can suffer. It’s less of a problem with fibre optic broadband, but it’s something to be aware of. Even so, truly unlimited broadband is for you if you’re a heavy internet user.
Providers that offer truly unlimited packages include:
- BT - All BT unlimited broadband packages - including BT Infinity fibre optic broadband packages - are truly unlimited. No usage limits at all, so go crazy.
- Sky - Most Sky broadband packages are truly unlimited, allowing you to use the internet freely. The exception is Sky Broadband Lite, which is free with Sky TV - it has a 2GB monthly usage cap.
- TalkTalk - All TalkTalk broadband packages are truly unlimited - perfect for watching tons of TV on demand on TalkTalk TV, especially as TalkTalk prioritises on-demand video on its network.
Unlimited broadband packages
Not all unlimited packages are completely free from restraint - some providers, depending on their fair usage policy, will manage traffic at peak times, and could impose a speed limit on you if you’re overloading the network.
Providers that offer unlimited packages include:
- Plusnet - All Plusnet broadband packages are unlimited. However, if you’re doing a lot online at the same time, some traffic - such as streaming video - will be prioritised to ensure it’s not interrupted.
- Virgin Media - Like many providers, Virgin Media doesn’t limit how much you download, but it does manage the speed at which heavy users can upload and download during peak times to ensure consistent performance across its network.
- Post Office - The top package from Post Office broadband, HomePhone and Broadband Premium, offers download speeds of up to 17Mb and unlimited downloads. Again, the provider manages web traffic, so you'll always get consistent speeds but your connection may slow a little at peak times.
Every provider has its own policy on what constitutes unlimited broadband, so make sure you check the small print before you sign up to a package so you know just how ‘unlimited’ it is. If you’re not sure, get in touch with us via Facebook, Twitter or live chat.