Most of the mainstream ISP’s such as Virgin Media, Talk Talk, BT and Sky all offer broadband connections with an ‘unlimited’ or ‘unmetered’ bandwidth consumption. ISP’s who do this will tend to hide in the small print that they will traffic manage your connection during peak periods. This basically means that if you exceed a certain threshold, i.e. you download more than 10GB of data between the hours of 6pm and 10pm they will traffic shape your bandwidth from it’s maximum of 80mb down to 20mb (for example). Virgin Media are renowned for doing this and although they offer a 152mb connection, they sometimes apply traffic management policies if you’re using a lot of bandwidth during peak times and they have other sneaky tricks such as using transparent proxies and hijacking your DNS to point to their own caches for things like Netflix and Youtube. This has it’s own issues but is best reserved for another post!
On the other side of all this are smaller ISP’s who can’t afford to offer unlimited bandwidth but instead offer you a fully unfiltered and non-traffic managed connection. The catch is of course that you are often given a small bandwidth allowance on their FTTC packages (not so much on their ADSL packages) and to get a higher allowance, you will have to pay a premium. A couple of the smaller ISP’s operating in this manner are Xilo and AAISP (Andrews & Arnold). The former offer unlimited bandwidth ADSL packages but these are comparatively slow to the FTTC packages they also offer but with a cap. Taking their 500GB option will cost you over £50/month. The latter ISP have usage caps on all of their residential connection offerings (both ADSL & FTTC) and to get a 300GB bandwidth allowance (the maximum available) with them will cost you an extra £20 on top of your normal monthly cost for the connection.
I’m not a heavy user in terms of downloads month on month so generally these limits don’t pose too much of an issue for me. However, I’m beginning to watch a lot more Sky Go, Now TV, 4OD etc and just tonight I bought GTA5 for the PC which when I went to download it on Steam comes out at a huge ***60GB***. As I’m with AAISP, I immediately had to top-up my allowance by 50GB (£10) to allow me to continue with the download as I was quickly coming towards the end of my 100GB monthly allowance. Coupled with all of this, I would like to take monthly backups of VM’s running in a datacenter to my local NAS here at home, but this just isn’t feasible when some of the VM’s attached disks total more than triple my monthly bandwidth allowance!
I have proposed a possible solution to AAISP before in that they offer a vaster amount of bandwidth allowance, i.e. 1TB a month but throttle my 80mb FTTC connection to 20mb down but allow burst traffic to 80mb. As I’m not a heavy user for most of the month, this would probably suit me down to the ground. In order to get around this issue, I’ve had to order a new connection from a mainstream provider which has an ‘unlimited allowance’, however in general I concede that if you were to try to take advantage of this 24/7 you might find very quickly that you get complaint letters from your ISP. So I think rather that a higher solid limit be set and agreed to and then there is no differing interpretations of what unlimited means.