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What is unlimited broadband?

When you are using the Internet to browse online, check your emails, stream movies or one of several other things that involves using your broadband connection you will be consuming data.

Some online activities use much more data than others but they all use data and when combined, the amount of data used over the course of a month can be very high.

If you have an unlimited broadband contract it means you will be able to use as much data as you like without having to pay for extra data. There are, however, sometimes acceptable use policies even with unlimited contracts so bear these in mind and check with your particular broadband provider.

The alternative to unlimited broadband is a contract that incorporates usage caps so you need to make sure that each month you stay within the agreed usage limits or you will be liable for extra data charges.

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Do I need unlimited broadband?

Unless you are a very light user of the Internet it is recommended that an unlimited broadband contract is the best option to take. This means you don’t have to worry about going over your allocated data usage cap which can be expensive.

There are certain circumstances where an unlimited contract is certainly the best option. If you fall into any of these categories then unlimited is the way to go for you:

Online gamers – If you regularly play PC or games consoles against online players then you will use a lot of data during your gaming sessions. You will also want to have a fast broadband line so your game will run as fast as possible and be as responsive as it can be.

Video streaming – There are now a wide variety of platforms that you can stream video content such as YouTube, Now TV, Netflix, Amazon Video as well as catch up TV from Sky and Virgin Media. Streaming a movie in HD over a couple of hours can use up a lot of bandwidth so unlimited broadband would be a bonus.

Music streaming – Streaming music online using services like Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music and Amazon Music also uses high levels of data. Not to mention listening to any of the thousands of online radio stations that can be streamed direct to your home.

Large household – If you have a large family or live in a house share you need to take into account how much each person will be using the Internet and what they will use the Internet for. For example, if everyone has a mobile phone, tablet, computer/laptop, games console, online music subscription and on-demand TV us used extensively then it is a guarantee that unlimited broadband will be the best option.

Downloads/peer to peer – Instead of streaming content there may be a need to download large files. For example if you are buying movies online, buying console games or buying music you will need to physically download the content onto your device. This will mean a large one-off file download. If this is spread among several members of the household the data can really build up.

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How much data do I use?

It can be hard to know exactly how much data is used during each type of online activity as the figures can vary wildly but as a rule of thumb you should expect to use the following amounts of data for each activity:

Streaming 4k video 1 hour – 7GB
Download/stream HD movie – 4GB
Download/stream SD movie – 1GB to 2GB
Online gaming 1 hour – 40MB to 300MB
Stream YouTube 1 hour – 250MB
Stream 1 hour of music – 150MB
Use social media 1 hour – 20MB
Skype 1 hour – 13MB to 45MB
Web browsing 1 hour – 10MB to 20MB
Download one song – 3MB to 8MB

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Is unlimited broadband really unlimited?

Broadband companies aren’t allowed to mislead customers by stating that a broadband product is unlimited unless it is truly unlimited or it is unlimited with what is known as a fair use policy.

Also bear in mind whether a company marketing unlimited broadband operates a form of “traffic management” on their network that could potentially slow down your broadband line at certain times of the day or in particular circumstances.

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What are 'fair use' policies?

Fair use policies are put in place (even on unlimited broadband contracts) in order to protect the integrity of the broadband service for all customers. If a broadband company sees that your broadband data usage is extremely excessive when compared with other customers then this may invoke the “fair use” element.

Essentially the broadband provider wants to ensure that the broadband service they offer to customers is as stable and reliable as possible so if the actions of one or a small number of broadband users run the risk of degrading the service for others then measures can be taken against the customer or traffic management will be employed.

Each broadband provider will have their own specific policies on fair use so it is important to check out their terms and conditions and fair use policies prior to signing up for broadband with them.

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What is broadband 'traffic management'?

An extension of the fair use policy can be when traffic management is used by the broadband operators, again to try to maintain a stable and reliable service for all customers.

This can take the form of slowing down the download speed of users that are downloading to a high degree during peak time periods. By slowing down the users heavily downloading it maintains a good service for other users during peak times.

Different providers have differing traffic management policies based on times of the day and activities involved so check each individual provider, whereas some providers claim that they do not use traffic management at all on their network.

Get unlimited broadband

Unlimited broadband contracts are the norm now rather than the lower cost capped usage broadband deals on offer.

All the main broadband providers offer a form of unlimited broadband – often in ADSL, fibre and superfast fibre variations.

Particularly strong offerings are the Sky unlimited broadband packages along with TalkTalk unlimited broadband as they have been known for offering no traffic management or fair usage policies with their unlimited broadband deals.

As is always the case if you are looking at a new broadband contract or want to switch broadband from another provider you should check what broadband coverage you can get at your location.

You can do this by entering your postcode within our broadband availability checker which will then bring up a comparison table of broadband deals available in your area. Use the filters on the comparison table to select specific broadband companies, monthly costs, contract term, broadband speeds, etc. to help you narrow down to the best deals for you.