As more and more people turn to online content for entertainment, having a fast and available Internet connection at home is a growing priority, writes Calvin Collett, CEO of iConnect Telecoms.
Increasing downloads of bandwidth hungry content is driving many consumers to look for data packages based on how many Gigabytes they can deliver, with an uncapped, seemingly limitless package being seen as the ultimate in home connectivity. But this is not necessarily the case. It is important for consumers of the Internet to understand their usage and then match their needs with the appropriate solution.
Despite the hype behind uncapped data offerings, they’re not all as limitless as they seem. They offer the benefit of having no limit to how much content is downloaded or how big the content is, but there are a number of unexpected drawbacks to uncapped services that may not be explained to unknowing consumers. In order to avoid disappointment, it is imperative that prospective users carefully scrutinise the fine print of packages on offer, as well as select a service provider that is in touch with the needs of consumers today.
Something that many people do not understand is that with an uncapped solution, the Internet Service Provider generally includes a ‘fair usage policy’ that accompanies such services. These policies stipulate limitations to usage of the data, such as adding time constraints or making only a certain amount of bandwidth available at the promised speed, after which the speed will be throttled. This throttling reduces the speed of a connection considerably, often to such an extent that the connection becomes unstable, resulting in delays, jitter and endless buffering.
Depending on the amount of content that a user downloads and the associated file sizes, ‘power’ users that download large files or content such as HD movies may end up reaching this limit very quickly, leaving them with a comparatively sluggish connection for the rest of the month.
Uncapped data packages are also often sold as ‘shaped’. What this means is that the service provider gives priority to certain types of data traffic, such as Internet browsing, over others and video streaming is seldom given top priority. As data is generally shared, with several users connecting to a single distribution point, if your neighbours are using the connection for prioritised traffic, such as browsing the web, data will be allocated to them first, leaving you with whatever is left over. So even if the connection is fast and stable, your Netflix may not be able to leverage all of that speed, resulting in poor streaming and video quality.
Consumers tend to think of capped data as coming in small packages of anywhere up to 10Gb, but technologies such as fibre to the home are doing away with this limitation and enabling packages of 250GB and more. Over the last four to five years, the growing number of undersea cables have also provided us with more bandwidth, particularly international bandwidth. Whereas, in the past, users could only access 25% of their bandwidth for international traffic while the rest was available for local traffic, the demand for international content has eliminated this constraint.
Data is also becoming considerably less expensive as service providers compete to offer larger packages for less money, making capped packages offering high data limits more attractive than ever before. While uncapped solutions sound attractive in their seeming lack of limitations, depending on home user’s preference, they do not typically need endless amounts of data. To illustrate, 250Gb of data should give you 4 hours of movie streaming per day for a month, as well as basic internet usage for email, internet banking, etc.
However, there is no right or wrong with capped versus uncapped. It is vital that you understand your connectivity needs and what you will be using the Internet for. If you are looking for a high end user experience, a capped option will likely be the best solution for you. If you are not overly concerned with slower download speeds and tend to use most of your data for browsing, then uncapped is the way to go. Make sure, too, that you select a service provider who offers some flexibility. Your data needs may change and what works for you now, may not be suitable six months down the line. Having the ability to change your package based on your needs ensures you are not tied into a service that no longer meets your needs.
Choose a service provider who understands the benefits of both solutions and who can help you select one that works for you. Discussing your data requirements with your service provider when opting for a capped solution will ensure you receive a package that takes your projected usage into consideration, safeguarding you against exceeding a cap, while providing you with constant and sufficient speeds.