The Truth about Unlimited

For many years the term 'Unlimited' has been used to describe broadband and Internet access services in general. In the early days, unlimited was about as misleading as it possibly could be with service providers closing accounts, limiting customers and imposing fines for 'unfair usage' but like all good things the law eventually caught up and that little scam was left by the roadside. Now days 'Unlimited' still features unanimously in advertising with such commonality that it now has to be combined by yet more pointless adjectives like 'Totally' as below: 

Of course Totally Unlimited broadband is much better than just Unlimited right? 

Nope, You can get Totally Unlimited Extra, which is of course even better right?

Or maybe 100% Unlimited is the one to go for because the Totally Unlimited isn't 100% Unlimited maybe? 

I'm not sure how many people are actually taken in by this sort of mis-use of compound adjectives but judging by the fact that every residential ISP is using them, it must have some impact. Regardless, the reality is that there is nothing like Unlimited about broadband in any sense of the word. Let's look at how it all connects together: 

There are Four main sections in the service provision between your premises and the internet when looking at FTTC (Aka Fibre Broadband): 

Premises to Cabinet: This is provided over copper pairs and provides a throughput of up to 80m/bit/s by 20m/bit/s, this section is limited by the line conditions and not everyone gets anywhere near this throughput. In addition, a profile (aka BRAS or IP Profile) deliberately limits this rate to 82% of the sync speed (note: ISP's can vary this rate depending on how much you pay etc). Regardless of the BRAS and SYNC speeds it is far from Unlimited. 

Cabinet to Exchange: This is provided over 10G/bit/s Fibre Connection, but each 10G/bit connection will be shared over all the connected premises, meaning that you are only guaranteed a percentage of that 10g/bit/s. To be fair in most area's, bandwidth exceeds subscription so there shouldn't be any contention here. 

Exchange to ISP: The connection over BT's high speed packet network to the ISP that your currently paying for broadband all depends on (a) the capacity in the BT network and (b) the capacity your chosen ISP has purchased, some can be as low as 10g/bit/s others more and this information isn't publicly available. 

ISP to Internet: The connection from your ISP to the internet is again not publicly available but can be as low as 10g/bit/s and will be shared with hosting, email, etc. 

So, where in this service scenario is there anything unlimited? Well, nowhere and it never has been. To add fuel to the fire, many residential ISP's use a technology called 'packet shaping' to slow down certain types of high bandwidth traffic such as bittorrent and P2P. 

Can it be unlimited? No. 

But it can be better if you have a fat enough wallet. GEN for example who exclusively supply business customers can provide (a) a guaranteed bandwidth from the cabinet to exchange, (b) Prioritised traffic from the exchange to our networks, and (c) guaranteed bandwidth to the internet but it all costs money which is why residential broadband is so cheap, and business class is so expensive. Bandwidth is bandwidth and the cost is the same, the more users that share the same bandwidth the cheaper it is for each - Its as simple as that!

E&OE - Credits to BT, Talktalk and Plusnet for this banner ads and absolutely no disrespect to their services is intended and they are just examples and in no way exclusive. All opinions given are that of the author.