'Unlimited broadband' is a phrase used a lot in providers' broadband advertising, but in many cases 'unlimited' doesn't really mean you can download to your heart's content.
The majority of 'unlimited' broadband packages actually have a fair usage policy attached, which may restrict your speeds at certain times of day, or cap your downloads if your provider believes you are using the service excessively.
Fair usage restrictions can also come in the form of a traffic management policy or acceptable use policies, all of which essentially boil down to your internet usage not being 100% unlimited.
Some providers advertise the limits of their fair usage policies while others prefer to keep their limits vague.
The way that fair usage policies are applied also varies from one supplier to the next, with some throttling your speed if you download too much during peak hours, and others simply slowing you down if you download too much over the course of a whole month.
Fair usage policies may, at first glance, appear to be unreasonable on a package that is advertised as being 'unlimited', but in reality they can be beneficial for the majority who have moderate internet usage.
These policies are only usually applied to those people with the heaviest downloading appetites to prevent their usage slowing the broadband speed of other customers living nearby.
Unlimited broadband deals
Monthly cost: £3.75
(for 12 months)1st year cost: £47.18
Monthly cost: £6.50 1st year cost: £78.00
Monthly cost: £16.00
(free for 6 months)1st year cost: £102.95
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Up to 50 people may be sharing a single line coming from the exchange. This is referred to as the contention ratio, and if one user is downloading excessively, it will reduce the connection speeds received by others sharing the same line.
Unlimited broadband without a 'fair use' policy
Some providers offer 'truly unlimited' broadband, which has no fair usage policy at all.
Plusnet (www.Plus.net) also delivers a 'truly unlimited' broadband service with no fair usage policy and no traffic management. It's ideal for families with several smartphones, tablets and laptops - and for big downloaders.
Virgin Media (www.VirginMedia.com) is another provider with no limits on its broadband packages. Like EE, Virgin Media manages traffic during peak hours to ensure consistent speeds across the network.
Cheap unlimited broadband
Switching to an unlimited broadband package doesn't always mean you'll be paying more.
A few broadband providers, such as Virgin Media, offer unlimited broadband as standard. If you've decided you need unlimited broadband but still have concerns about cost, perhaps you could look at other ways to save.
One easy way to save money is to 'bundle' your home phone, broadband and TV with a single provider that offers all three. Some providers, like TalkTalk (www.TalkTalk.co.uk) and Virgin Media, can add a mobile phone to the bundle too.
The most important thing is to never pay over the odds for a service you don't really need. Think about your usage and whether you'd save money choosing a cheap broadband package with a usage limit.
Unlimited broadband is mainly for households with several computers - or tablets, smartphones and games consoles all connected to the wireless - as well as people who regularly download large files or stream lots of TV and movies.
What is a set download limit?
Broadband packages with a set download allowance let you download a certain amount of data each month. You won't be cut off if you reach that limit, but you may be charged extra for a data add-on if you would like to carry on downloading before your next billing date.
If you repeatedly hit your download allowance, it may be worth considering unlimited broadband.
Compare unlimited broadband packages
Use our free, Ofcom-accredited broadband comparison service to find a package that perfectly suits your needs. We will tell you the download limit and fair usage policy for each UK broadband package, as well as flagging up any other issues or hidden costs.
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