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What Lies Beneath the Unlimited Internet Claim

Wednesday November 27, 2019

This article will help debunk the claim of unlimited internet advertised by many ISPs in many countries. In the next few lines you will learn why it's a false claim. If you want some proof using simple math read till the end.

Whether you're a gamer, a heavy downloader, or a netflixer, you've probably heard about it before or even been tempted to subscribe to that super duper Unlimited Internet plan offered by your ISP (Internet Service Provider) to satisfy your thirst for more Internet quota.

If you are a current subscriber of an Unlimited Internet plan or considering to subscribe to such a plan, you'd better continue reading.

I guess you're familiar with terms such as speed and quota when it comes to describing any Internet plan found on ISPs websites. Whether you're accessing the Internet over any flavor of DSL, through cable or even over fiber optic Speed is measured in Mbps (Mega Bits per Sec) and Quota or data cap is measured in GB (Giga Bytes).

Your ISP advertises every plan by how many Giga Bytes you can download in total every month and your download speed in Mega Bits per Sec.

If you don't want to read the full article, a simple analogy shows why the Unlimited Internet claim is false.

Your connection speed is much like your car speed and your quota is how many kilometers you can drive. Let us presume you're driving your car at a constant speed of 100km/h. After one hour of driving you will cross 100km at this speed. If you drive for a whole day non stop you will cross 2400 km (100km x 24h) and if you drive for a whole month (30 days) at this constant speed non stop you will cross 72,000km (100km x 24h x 30days), wherever this may lead you. Knowing this, if someone tells you I am driving my car at 150km/h, would you believe that the car will cross endless kilometers after one month of driving, or you will be certain that the car will run for some specific kilometers that you can easily calculate.

If you're still not convinced or want to learn more about why technically there's nothing called Unlimited Internet please continue reading.

To begin with, know that the smallest unit of data in a computer is a bit which can have two values either 0 or 1. So basically everything on your computer is a bunch of 0s and 1s that translate into documents, images and videos... Yeah that's amazing and almost unbelievable! For processing, those bits are organized in a pack of eight and this pack is called a byte. So every byte equals 8 bits.

Talking about speed, means how many bits are transferred in a unit of time which is the second. So a speed of 2 Mbps means 2,000,000 bits are transferred every single second.

To move further, please note the following.

1Kb (kilo bit) = 1,000 bits
1Mb (mega bit) = 1,000,000 bits
1Gb (giga bit) = 1,000,000,000 bits

On the other hand, there's also a conversion table for bytes.

1KB (kilo byte) = 1024 bytes
1MB (mega byte) = 1024 x 1024 bytes = 1,048,576 bytes
1GB (giga byte) = 1024 x 1024 x 1024 bytes = 1,073,741,824 bytes

Now let's put the math helmet and get ready for some calculations. Don't worry it's just simple multiplications and divisions.

For the sake of simplicity, let us suppose your ISP gives you a constant 2Mbps for download, that means every second your computer is downloading 2,000,000 bits. As mentioned earlier every 1 byte = 8 bits, so to convert into actual bytes 2,000,000 bites represent 2,000,000 / 8 = 250,000 bytes. So every second you're downloading 250,000 bytes, to get total bytes you can download during a whole day non stop, we perform the following operation: 250,000 x 60 x 60 x 24 = 21,600,000,000 bytes for one day. Since every minute is 60sec and every hour is 60min and every day is 24h

Let us calculate the total bytes for a whole month with an average of 30 days per month. The total amount of bytes in one month turns to 21,600,000,000 x 30 = 648,000,000,000 bytes in a month. That's a lot of zeros, so let us convert into GB using what we've mentioned earlier.

1KB (kilo byte) = 1024 bytes
1MB (mega byte) = 1024 x 1024 bytes = 1,048,576 bytes
1GB (giga byte) = 1024 x 1024 x 1024 bytes = 1,073,741,824 bytes

648,000,000,000 bytes is around 603.5 GB (simply divide by 1024 to turn into KB then by 1024 to turn into MB and finally divide by another 1024 to turn in GB.

These calculations were necessary to know how many GB you can download over a speed of 2Mbps. But what does 603.5 GB actually mean? That total means if you were running your internet connection non stop every second, every minute, every hour for a whole month, it would only be able to download 603.5GB worth of data. Which clearly shows that there's nothing unlimited about what you can download. Therefore the quota cannot be unlimited.

If you think that your ISP will give you that much worth of data think again.

Although the calculation was a bit long (hopefully not too complicated) you know now that there's nothing called unlimited. There's a physical limit to how much data you can download over any connection speed.

The question now is how much data your ISP is offering you compared to the actual total amount of data you can reach with your connection speed. If we examine the terms and conditions of any unlimited plan offered by any ISP, you will not know how much you're actually getting. The ISP often uses a term called FUP (Fair Use/Usage Policy) to say that you cannot download as much as you want. Your ISP will restrict your speed if you reach a certain undeclared quota in a given time frame.

If you check the FUPs of some local ISPs you will see that there's no mention of the actual limit.




There's no doubt, the ISP needs to protect the network from abuse, after all it's a company that wants to make profits. The problem lies in the fact that you never know what's the threshold.
In conclusion, what should your Internet provider do? To be fully transparent ISPs should no longer advertise Unlimited Internet and instead present all plans with clear speeds and quotas. The infrastructure cost is decreasing every year, so more high speeds and caps/quotas can be offered for reasonable prices.

Any time you see an ISP website showing "Unlimited quota/data" know it's just a marketing gimmick to sell you nothing but a sham.