Broadband: How to get the best broadband deal Unlimited broadband - how much data do I need?
Internet service providers offer a range of packages, including more expensive deals with unlimited data allowances. That said, in many cases a standard broadband package – even one with data limits – may be perfectly fine for your home needs.
We lay out what you need to consider when weighing up whether to go for an unlimited deal, or a capped service, and how much data you might typically use a month. You might be surprised how much you can do online with just a few gigabytes.
Calculate your broadband speed
The easy-to-use Which? broadband usage calculator takes away the guesswork, so you won't be left paying a premium for a broadband allowance you never use. And to make things even easier, our calculator then recommends the perfect deals from providers that Which? members rate most highly in our unique survey.
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|what broadband usage limit do I need?|
|Questions||Typical usage for a light usera||Typical usage for a medium userb||Typical usage for a heavy userc|
|How many hours do you browse the internet each week?||5 hours||7 hours||10 hours|
|How many emails to you send each week?||31 emails||50 emails||60 emails|
|How many software updates do you download each week?||1 software update||1 software update||2 software updates|
|How many photos do you upload or download each week?||n/a||5 photos||5 photos|
|How many short video clips do you watch each week?||n/a||2 video clips||4 video clips|
|How many software applications do you download each week?||n/a||1 software download||1 software download|
|How many hours do you spend watching online TV each week?||n/a||n/a||2 hours|
|How many hours do you spend listening to online radio each week?||n/a||n/a||1 hour|
|How many music tracks do you download each week?||n/a||n/a||2 music track downloads|
|How many hours do you spend making internet phone calls?||n/a||n/a||1 hour|
|How many hours do you spend a week playing online games?||n/a||n/a||3 hours|
|How many films do you download each month?||n/a||n/a||1 film|
Values based on data provided by Which? members
- This level of broadband usage for a light user equates to 0.5GB per month.
- This level of broadband usage for a medium user equates to 1.2GB per month.
- This level of broadband usage for a heavy user equates to 6.8GB per month.
How much broadband data will I need?
Data use varies dramatically depending on how much and how you surf. The following offers an idea as to how much you might consume using various services.
- Downloading an average-length music track – 4MB
- 40 hours general surfing of websites – 0.3GB
- 200 emails – 0.8GB, depending on attachments
- Listening to online radio for 80 hours a month – 5.2GB
- Downloading one entire film – 2.1GB
- Watching HD films via Netflix – 2.8GB per hour
Unlimited vs. capped broadband
ISPs have bent the rules of English somewhat with their definitions of 'unlimited'. Even if you see this wording, it doesn't always mean truly unlimited.
Service providers tend to invoke 'fair usage policies' that say packages can still be limited if you go over a certain level of downloads, for which you may face penalties.
The Advertising Standards Agency told Virgin in March 2013 that it couldn't call its super-fast services unlimited because it throttled connections by 50% for the 3% of users that exceeded their download limits.
Under advertising guidelines, ISPs can use 'unlimited' in advertising if they manage traffic, but only if the throttling is 'moderate'. 'Truly unlimited' and 'totally unlimited' can only be used where there is no 'provider-imposed' restriction whatsoever.
Sky, BT and Zen all offer packages that are fully unlimited, but you can expect to spend around £10 a month more for an unlimited service than you would for an equivalent speed connection with a 10GB cap.
Capped broadband allowances
If you're considering a capped broadband allowance rather than an unlimited plans, there are some things worth considering:
- Value Capped packages mean you're not paying for traffic that you'll never use.
- The 'parking meter' effect Capped services can be like a parking meter that you've paid for for an hour, only to find you need to stay longer. You might find you're online longer than you expect and caps can hamper your activity.
- Top-ups You can buy additional data to top-up your package if, for example, you watch more TV online during Wimbledon fortnight.
- Off-peak special offers Some services that are capped have unlimited downloads during quiet hours, such as overnight – you can set up downloads to start in the off-peak hours.
Unlimited broadband services
There are some definite advantages to having an unlimited broadband service, provided that you are a sufficiently heavy user:
- Entertainment As more of us use catch-up TV services, the average home downloads more data – don't be caught out. According to Ofcom, last year, on average, residential fixed broadband customers used 23GB of data per month.
- Limits and Fair Use Policies Look for the words 'truly' or 'totally' unlimited in the broadband promotion, as these generally mean there are no restrictions.
- Peace of mind Some users like knowing that they don't need to worry about how much they download when there's no limit to consider.
What happens if I go over my broadband usage allowance?
Most ISPs will email you if you are approaching your monthly traffic allowance. Some will ignore the problem if it happens rarely, while others are more proactive. Virgin, for example, cuts bandwidth significantly – by between 40% and 50% – if customers go over their cap.
Sky, for example, will move repeat offenders onto more expensive packages with higher data caps, while other ISPs, including PlusNet and BT, may add charges, around £1 per GB, but sold in blocks of 5GB.