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Unlimited broadband: Who is playing by the new rules?

Broadband services advertised as offering unlimited downloads are now required by law to be totally truly unlimited.

The Committee of Advertising Practice last year ruled that claims of unlimited downloads would need to go if the service wasn’t ‘truly’ unlimited (i.e. there’s an invisible ceiling/traffic management) or traffic management heavily restricts the ability to download.

ISP’s can however apply restrictions to illegal downloads of copyrighted content and introduce ‘moderate’ limits on downloading, so long as this is explained up front.

Pending any official PR fanfare, we’ve taken a look at the big UK broadband providers – BT, Virgin Media, Sky, TalkTalk and Orange – to see how their unlimited broadband services shape up.

BT Broadband unlimited traffic management

BT Broadband Traffic Management

BT’s Unlimited packages come with a caveat saying that a “network management policy applies to unlimited options,” which if you dig around in the terms and conditions, only applies to P2P traffic.

This takes place between 4pm and 12pm on weekdays and 9am and 12pm on weekends.

While P2P traffic is de-prioritised, no other services – gaming, newsgroups, VoIP – are either bumped up or downranked.

Aside from this P2P throttling, BT’s unlimited broadband services are as advertised – truly unlimited downloads with no hidden ceilings.

Virgin Media unlimited broadband traffic management

Virgin Media Traffic Management

As with BT, Virgin Media’s unlimited broadband packages manage P2P traffic, explicitly naming services such as Limewire, Gnutella and BitTorrent. Access to Usenet and other newsgroups will also be reduced.

As well as this, Virgin Media has today updated its traffic management policies, detailing when services will be slowed down on what packages.

On services where you get speeds of above 30Mbps, your connection speed will be halved for a 5 hour period if you exceed the following limits:

Virgin Media Traffic Management Daytime – between 10am and 3pm

Size L (30Mbps): 7GB
Size XL (30Mbps): 7GB
Size XXL (50Mbps): 10GB
Size XL (60Mbps): 10GB
Size XXL (100Mbps): 20GB
100 (100Mbps): 20GB

Virgin Media Traffic Management Evening – between 4pm and 9pm

Size L (30Mbps): 3.5GB
Size XL (30Mbps): 3.5GB
Size XXL (50Mbps): 5GB
Size XL (60Mbps): 5GB
Size XXL (100Mbps): 10GB
100 (100Mbps): 10GB

For those on Virgin Media services where the speeds are 20Mbps or slower, traffic management works out as follows:

Virgin Media Traffic Management Daytime – between 10am and 3pm

Size S (5Mbps): 500MB
Size M (10Mbps): 1.5GB
Size L (10Mbps): 3GB
Size XL (20Mbps): 3GB
Size ML (20Mbps): 7GB

Virgin Media Traffic Management Evening – between 4pm and 9pm

Size S (5Mbps): 500MB
Size M (10Mbps): 1.5GB
Size L (10Mbps): 3GB
Size XL (20Mbps): 3GB
Size ML (20Mbps): 7GB

PDFs detailing the full policies can be found here and here.

Sky unlimited broadband traffic management

Sky Broadband Traffic Management

Sky’s Broadband Unlimited package isn’t affected by any peak time management or traffic shaping. As well as there being no hidden download caps (making it truly unlimited), even P2P services like Limewire and the gang aren’t throttled or managed.

This gives Sky Broadband a bit of cred amoung the bigger broadband players in the UK, though its Usage Policy does sternly warn you no to engage in illegal activity, unthrottled P2P notwithstanding.

TalkTalk unlimited broadband traffic management

TalkTalk Broadband Traffic Management

Currently, TalkTalk Plus, TalkTalk’s unlimited broadband package, offers unlimited downloads with no hidden caps or usage limits.

There is however a traffic management policy in place which throttles P2P traffic at peak times, while prioritising services such as VoIP, gaming, browsing – in other words general web use.

When in the day this traffic management is in place depends on whether you’re connected to TalkTalk’s network or not.

If you’re on the network, then the traffic management takes effect between 6pm and midnight. If you’re not on TalkTalk’s network then its applied a little earlier, between 3pm and midnight.

Orange unlimited broadband traffic management

Orange Broadband Traffic Management

Orange’s Broadband and Anytime Call packages feature unlimited downloads which, in Orange’s own words, lets you “use as many MB/GB as you like without being charged more.”

There is however traffic management in place, which prioritises VoIP and gaming services over P2P and newsgroup services:

“We manage our network at peak and congested times by prioritising gaming and voice over the internet [VoIP] and slowing down peer to peer and newsgroup services.”

So, who is truly unlimited?

All of the packages above offer unlimited services that fall within the CAP’s guidelines.

It’s worth noting that though each provider here is giving you the dictionary definition of ‘unlimited’ when it comes to downloading, P2P services look to be throttled on most of the providers and some kind of peak time management system is in place, with the exception of Sky.


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