About unlimited broadband deals
In this guide
When choosing a broadband deal the last thing you want is to hit a data limit. Limited packages in the UK are actually pretty rare these days. But they do still crop up from time to time and tend to be a little cheaper.
Most likely, then, you’ll end up with an unlimited broadband deal. But not all unlimited broadband is created equal. Concepts like traffic management, contention ratios and fair usage policies come into play in some cases and may affect your speeds and the amount of data you can download.
Types of unlimited broadband
Unlimited broadband is where there are no limits on the amount of data you can download each month. There may, however, be some rules that mean you won’t get the best speeds all of the time, or that your connection may be stunted after you download a certain amount of data. Below is a list of the three types of broadband limitation.
- Limited broadband – This where you have a monthly limit on the amount of data you use on your broadband connection. You may be familiar with this if you have a smartphone with a data limit. Typically, your provider will warn you if you are reaching near your limit. This type of broadband deal is incredibly rare these days and it’s highly unlikely you’ll find one.
- Unlimited broadband – This is where there is no limit on the amount of data you can use each month. However, one or two providers (SSE, Post Office Broadband come to mind) have traffic management and/or fair usage policies that may limit your speed during peak hours, or curtail the amount of data you’re allowed to download at the maximum speed your line is capable of, should you download in excess
- Truly unlimited broadband – Most unlimited broadband deals are ‘truly unlimited’. This means that no matter what you’re doing with your broadband, at what time of day, and how much, your provider will always endeavour to provide you with the speed you’re paying for. Few broadband providers use the term ‘truly unlimited’ anymore, as it’s pretty much the norm. But if you see it, that’s what it means
Do I need unlimited broadband?
There really aren’t any limited broadband deals to speak of in the market right now, and though they may come back at some point – they do poke their heads in from time to time – chances are it’ll be impossible for you to find a deal that isn’t unlimited.
Should you get an unlimited broadband deal then? Yes. You will probably have to. Just in case there are some limited deals floating about when you read this or when you go to look, though, let’s take a quick look at who should consider unlimited broadband a must.
- Medium to large households – Frankly, if there’s more than one of you, you probably need unlimited broadband. You may even need it if you live solo, if you also happen to be someone who likes a lot of Netflix, gaming or other intensive online stuff
- Gamers – If you or anyone in your household is a gamer, you’re going to need unlimited broadband. Especially if you download your games. Soon, game streaming will even be a thing with services like Google Stadia launching later in 2019/2020. They will stream games live over the internet the same way Netflix does. Games use an ever-increasing amount of data
- Streamers of movies and TV – You might say ‘I don’t use the internet all that much, do I really need unlimited?’ Then you might go and binge a box set on Netflix, Now TV, Amazon or wherever. Congratulations, you just used your entire month’s allowance on your typical limited broadband deal. If you want to enjoy streaming without any hitch, have a look at our guide to streaming services.
- Home businesses – When you rely on a business broadband connection, the last thing you want is for it to come to a grinding halt because you've hit your limit. If you run a business from home that relies on internet connectivity, you will always need an unlimited deal
- Everyone – This is the point, really. There are almost no cases where we would recommend a limited deal over an unlimited one
Frequently asked questions
What is fair usage policy?
Although many broadband packages are 'unlimited', many carry a ‘fair usage policy’ (FUP). Depending on where you live, several other houses will all be plugged into the same cabinet that connects you to the internet. The number of houses you share this cabinet with is called your ‘contention ratio’.
Let’s say the contention ratio is 100:1. That means you and 99 other houses share the same internet cabinet. If each house is using the internet at the same time as you, your connection may slow down during busy times. Unlike a general 'traffic management' policy, the FUP targets specific users doing specific things, and prioritises others.
What is traffic management?
Traffic management is a method broadband providers use to give everyone the best speed available during peak times. It’s like rationing. Everyone gets slightly slower speeds, instead of some people getting good speeds and others getting poor speeds or no internet at all. If you want to learn a bit more about fair usage policies and traffic management, have a look at our guide.