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Unlimited Bandwidth - Is It Real?

Unlimited Bandwidth - makes your heart beat faster. It's catchy. It's exhilarating. You want to believe you found the best deal in the world. But, did you really?

What is Bandwidth?
Unmetered vs. Unlimited Bandwidth
Are they real?
What's the Catch?

What is Bandwidth?

Before we answer this question, let's go back and find out what bandwidth actually means. One problem with regards to bandwidth is that it is used to refer to a number of terms associated with network performance. Some of them are quite similar to each other, and you will often see them used, and in many cases, misused. So we start by clarifying these terms.

Technically, bandwidth is the data-carrying capacity of a network, indicating the maximum amount of data that can pass from one point to another per unit time.

However, in the world of web hosting providers, bandwidth is mostly used to refer to the amount of data-transfer in given period of time. In other words, it means the total amount of data that is downloaded from or uploaded to a server in a given period of time. For example, if you have a dedicated server plan which includes 500 GB of data-transfer per month, then the total amount of data downloaded from and uploaded to your server in a month should be 500 GB. So, let's say this month you only upload one video file to your server. If the size of your video file is 1 GB, then the maximum number of times your users can download the file this month would be 499.

Bandwidth is also used to refer to the network speed. This is the rate at which data travels to and from your server. For example, fast Ethernet connection has a speed of 100 megabits per second, which means ideally your server can send or receive 100 megabits of data per second. So, in one month, your server could send or receive up to 262 Terra bits of data (that's 262,974 Giga bits).

In order to understand these two terms better, let's use a simple example. Imagine a water pipe connecting an empty container to another one filled with water. Now, the first question is how much water can we (or, are we allowed) to transfer to the empty container in one hour? Clearly the bigger is the container, the more water there is to be transferred. Similarly, the more bandwidth you get in a month with your service, the more you can download from or upload to your server.

The next question is how fast can we transfer the water to the empty container? The speed with which we can transfer the water to the empty container depends on the diameter of the pipe. The bigger the diameter, the more water can travel through the pipe per unit time. Same scenario applies to bandwidth. The speed with which data is transferred to and from a server depends on the provided network speed or port size. This figure varies from a web hosting provider to another.

"Unmetered" vs. "Unlimited" Bandwidth

Now that we know more about bandwidth, we can discuss a couple terms that have recently been thrown around by many web hosting providers - including some major players in the industry.

"Unmetered bandwidth" refers to the speed of data-transfer. Ideally what "unmetered" means is that a server can have part or all of a dedicated connection and you can never "over-use" the connection. But unmetered doesn't mean infinite bandwidth, rather it implies that a server is allowed to use the maximum network speed.

On the other hand, "Unlimited bandwidth" ideally means that as far as the amount of data-transfer goes, you can download or upload as much data as you want in a given period of time.

Are they real?

You probably noticed that we used the word "ideally" when explaining both unlimited bandwidth and unmetered bandwidth. The reason is that only in an ideal world you would be able to get real unlimited or unmetered bandwidth.

To elaborate on this, let's use our fast Ethernet connection example which has a speed of 100 megabits per second. What you need to know is that this figure is actually a nominal value, which basically means it is theoretical only. No networking technology can run at its full rated speed and many even run substantially below it due to real-world performance factors - such as normal network overhead, external performance limiters, and network configurations. Long story short, there is no way you could ever be able to transfer 262 Terra bits of data in a month! And even if you could, this still isn't "unlimited" bandwidth!

It is simply impossible for a web hosting provider to actually offer unlimited or unmetered bandwidth to their customers, especially because most providers themselves have limited resources (i.e. bandwidth, storage space, etc).

So now you know that there is no such a thing as "unlimited bandwidth", particularly in web hosting services. Both "unlimited" and "unmetered" are the products of a very clever and manipulative marketing strategy invented by some web hosting providers and quickly adopted by others.

What's the Catch?

As a way to obtain more customers, and to survive in this super-competitive industry, many providers now have begun offering unlimited bandwidth with their services. But, it is all about the fine prints, where quite often you find clauses embedded deep within the company's terms of service that reveal how they would restrict your bandwidth consumption to a limited amount, or even cancel your service altogether. These clauses are usually very subjective and arbitrary so that you wouldn't be able to argue with them. To give you an example of such clauses, here is what one web hosting provider stated in their contract: "excessive use of system resources (e.g. CPU) for longer than 90 seconds would result in termination of service!"

The main objective of this marketing trick is to get more and more customers to sign up to their services. It is no secret that in reality many web hosting customers only use very little bandwidth per month. Therefore, by decorating their web hosting services with stimulating but unrealistic offers like "unlimited bandwidth", these providers get a greater number of customers. Perhaps more than what they can handle. Then, within a short period of time, they essentially scoop out the ones who have relatively intense bandwidth usage and find an excuse to terminate their contracts, and keep the ones using little bandwidth per month.

There are other ways these web hosting providers play with those magical words. As we mentioned earlier in this article, there are two primary meanings associated with bandwidth: the amount of transferrable data, and the speed at which they are transferred. What some of the unlimited providers do is that they play with these two aspects of bandwidth to their advantage. For example, they offer unlimited bandwidth with your service but they reduce the speed so that you won't be able to transfer more than a specific amount even if your server works 24/7.

Another example is they promise you "Unmetered bandwidth", which means you can take up the whole dedicated connection but then they put a cap on the amount of data transfer. Although these providers claim they don't measure your bandwidth, their system does in fact monitor your data traffic consumption. And when you reach your cap, they will kick you out.

And these were just a few examples of how some web hosting providers try to lure customers to sign up for their services. Certainly there are other rather innovative ways too that they employ to increase revenue.

At the end, it is safe to say that "unlimited bandwidth" is actually more limited than "limited bandwidth!"

So, if you are planning on g

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