Unlimited broadband deals explained
By Dan Howdle | Friday, March 22nd 2019
In this guide
- What is unlimited broadband?
- Do I need unlimited broadband?
- Unlimited broadband providers
- Frequently asked questions
When choosing a broadband deal the last thing you want is to hit a data limit. Limited packages are actually pretty rare these days – you'll be pushed to find one. 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.
What is an unlimited broadband deal?
An unlimited broadband deal is one where there are no hard caps 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. We'll cover that later, but for the time being, let's look at the basic definitions of the three types of broadband limitation.
- Limited broadband – This where you have a monthly, hard cap on the amount of data you use on your broadband connection. You may be familiar with this system if you have a smartphone with a data limit. Same thing. Typically, your provider will warn you if you are reaching near your limit. If you do plump for a deal like this you'd better be pretty certain you're not going to hit that limit. Because if you do, and have to pay for more data, you will now likely be paying more than an unlimited deal would have cost you
- Unlimited broadband – This is where there is no hard cap 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 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
Should I get an unlimited broadband deal?
Normally, we'd answer this with a bit of 'if' and 'then' in our answer: If you're this sort of person with these sorts of needs, then you should or shouldn't get it. Here, though, the advice can be simplified. 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
- 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
Which providers offer unlimited broadband?
All the providers we show in our broadband comparison offer unlimited broadband deals. Irrespectively, there are some nuggets we'd like to share about each of them to give you a flavour of what they offer and how they differentiate themselves from one another.
- BT – The big daddy of British broadband, BT is perhaps the best-known household name in telecoms. It offers a range of broadband packages, all unlimited at the time of writing, from 10Mbps to 67Mbps, though it is at the more expensive end when there are no offers on
- EE Broadband – Is owned by BT, but has its own brand broadband packages at similar speeds to BT. All its packages are unlimited, and fairly priced year-round
- Shell Energy Broadband – Soon to be renamed 'Shell Broadband' of all things, First Utility has been bought outright by the oil giant (Shell). It offers few packages, but they tend to be very competitively priced. All are unlimited
- John Lewis Broadband – Firmly at the more expensive end of the scale John Lewis considers itself a 'prestige' broadband brand. Of course, you won't much extra in terms of speed or features for your extra pounds, but you will get to drop the name from time to time. All its packages are unlimited
- Plusnet – Also owned by BT and famed for the dozens of awards it seems to win each year for its customer service, Yorkshire-based Plusnet offers a host of unlimited broadband packages at reasonable prices
- Post Office Broadband – Aimed at the older generation, Post Office Broadband does its best to make things more easily understood to those of us who are less tech-aware. Its packages are unlimited, but it does operate a traffic management policy where it may restrict your speeds after you've used 100GB in a month
- Sky – Who hasn't heard of Sky? Famed for its satellite TV offering, Sky Broadband offers speeds similar to BT's, and they're also on the more expensive side of things. If you're getting Sky broadband, value arrives in the form of its broadband and TV bundles. All its packages are unlimited
- SSE – Similar speeds to BT, much lower prices generally. But then it's quite a bare-bones service compared to BT and some others, and its unlimited packages do have traffic management, where it will limit the speeds you can get for certain activities at certain times of the day
- TalkTalk – Of the big four providers, TalkTalk positions itself as the budget option. It offers only unlimited broadband packages at competitive prices
- Virgin Media – Offers the fastest widely available broadband in the UK. Not just a bit faster, but five times faster than its closest rival. All its broadband packages are unlimited with no restrictions, and you can bundle up some pretty incredible TV with it if you have the extra bucks
- Vodafone – Known mostly for its mobile network, Vodafone is making promising inroads with a broadband service that very capable and very good value for money. It won't break any speed records like Virgin Media, but all its packages are unlimited
Frequently asked questions
What is traffic management?
Traffic management is a method broadband providers use to ensure that during peak times everyone gets the best speed available. Think of it like rationing. When things get busy, internet speeds slow down, the food gets shared out. Traffic management ensures everyone gets speeds that are a bit slower, rather than some people getting good speeds and some getting very slow speeds or no internet at all.
What is a fair usage policy?
Despite pretty much all broadband packages being labelled as 'unlimited', many carry what's called a fair usage policy, or FUP. Depending where you live, a certain number of other houses in your area will all be plugged into the same cabinet. In essence, you will be sharing this much bigger, faster connection the cabinet has to the rest of the internet. The amount of people you share this with is known as your contention ratio.
So let's say your contention ration is 100 to one – that there are 99 other houses connected to the internet via the same cabinet as you. During busy times, when every one of those houses is using the internet at the same time as you, your connection may slow down. A fair usage policy, unlike the more general 'traffic management', targets specific users doing specific things, and prioritises others.
For example, if you're regularly downloading a videogames of hundreds of gigabytes in size, a fair usage policy may dictate that after a certain amount of gigabytes your connection is curtailed in order to provide more bandwidth (speed) to households trying to watch Netflix.
Can I get unlimited broadband with a phone line?
Yes. You'll find it's pretty hard not to. In fact, if you want broadband without a phone line, you're opening up an entirely new can of worms. Don't worry, though – if you switch broadband and have to switch your landline provider along with it, you get to keep your existing number.
Can I get unlimited broadband with a TV subscription?
Yes. In fact, there aren't any broadband and TV bundles where the broadband isn't unlimited.
What's the cheapest unlimited broadband deal?
We'd love to give you a nice easy answer here, but it changes all the time. What we can offer you is our dedicated comparison of cheap broadband deals. It's updated daily and sorted by price – cheapest first.
What is a limited download broadband deal?
Rare as hen's teeth these days, but they do pop up from time to time. A limited download broadband deal is one where you have a monthly limit on the data you can use, similar to how things currently work with most mobile deals.
Will I get a faster broadband package if it's unlimited?
No. Though it's hard to find a limited package these days, if you do find one, it'll offer the same speed as an identically advertised unlimited package.
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