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The Truth About Unlimited Bandwidth
Web Hosting is a commodity. The main elements of any web hosting plan are disk space and bandwidth. Disk space is the space you have allotted on the web server to store your website. Bandwidth is an amount you have available to transfer web pages from the web server to the browsers of visitors to your site. Web pages and graphics consume bandwidth or capacity on the web. Bandwidth and disk space cost money.
The network lines that carry data around the web (optic fiber, cable, copper wire etc) have a finite capacity. There is a limit to the amount of data that can be transferred at any point in time. Likewise, the hard drive of a web server has a limited amount of space determined by the physical size of the hard drive.
Many hosting companies claim to offer "unlimited" plans (both disk space and bandwidth), but be aware that there are physical limitations to both disk space and bandwidth. Before you buy an "unlimited" plan, know what you're getting into.
The Attraction to Unlimited
When consumers decide they want to place a website on the internet, they are often unaware of the fact that there are limitations. Unlimited is attractive because it requires no further thought. If it's unlimited then I never need to worry about running out right? Although this is understandable, there are risks with purchasing unlimited plans.
The Unlimited Myth
Many web hosting companies offer "unlimited" as a plan feature. It is impossible for any provider to actually provide an unlimited amount of bandwidth or disk space. It's just not possible.
So Why Do Unlimited Plans Exist?
Most websites only consume a very small amount of bandwidth and disk space. Web hosting companies that provide unlimited anything as a plan feature are banking on the fact that you won't use very much. Unlimited is a marketing trick to get your business. The web hosting market is very competitive. Although selling plans that pretend to be unlimited can seem dishonest, it does not mean that the hosting company will not provide good service. Check in the hosting company's Terms of Service: there will probably be a note about what "unlimited" really means.
When Are Unlimited Plans Ok?
If you have a small website and know that it will not consume too much space or bandwidth, then unlimited plans make your choices a bit easier to understand. Most plans that offer unlimited will have some restrictions such as no audio or video downloads. The reason audio or video downloads are typically not allowed in unlimited hosting plans is because these types of files consume significant bandwidth and disk space which exposes the host to the risk of having to add more hard drive space and bandwidth, which costs them more money. If you choose an unlimited plan and you know your needs won't be very intensive then you won't run into any problems.
When Are Unlimited Plans Not Ok?
If you intend to have a lot of visitors to your site, lots of downloads, including audio or video files, do not choose an unlimited plan hoping to get unrestricted bandwidth. You will find yourself with problems. Your web host is not going to run at a loss for long -
So What Is The Best Thing To Do?
The best course of action is to plan ahead. Calculate what type of bandwidth and disk space you will need for your site (you can use the information located on the FindMyHosting site Determining Your Needs to do this) then multiply it by 2 just to allow for expansion. Remember, you can always buy more bandwidth or disk space if you need -
Only consider an unlimited hosting plan if you know your disk space and bandwidth requirements are very low. If, on the other hand, you have an ecommerce site or a site that you expect to grow in size and bandwidth in future, avoid any plans that offer unlimited bandwidth or disk space.
Determining Your Needs
Web pages (html) are normally very small -
1 Byte1 character. This sentence is 25 bytes1KB1000 Bytes1MB1000KB1GB1000MBYou can see above that even a lot of pages doesn't really create a big requirement for disk space. If you own a computer at home you will already know that harddrives are very cheap these days. Many web hosting plans will offer large amounts of disk space. This is fine, it doesn't hurt to have the extra space -
Most hosting companies offer a variety of bandwidth options in their plans. So exactly what is bandwidth as it relates to web hosting? Put simply, bandwidth is the amount of traffic that is allowed to occur between your web site and the rest of the internet. The amount of bandwidth a hosting company can provide is determined by their network connections, both internal to their data center and external to the public internet.
The internet, in the most simplest of terms, is a group of millions of computers connected by networks. These connections within the internet can be large or small depending upon the cabling and equipment that is used at a particular internet location. It is the size of each network connection that determines how much bandwidth is available. For example, if you use a DSL connection to connect to the internet, you have 1.54 Mega bits (Mb) of bandwidth. Bandwidth therefore is measured in bits (a single 0 or 1). Bits are grouped in bytes which form words, text, and other information that is transferred between your computer and the internet.
If you have a DSL connection to the internet, you have dedicated bandwidth between your computer and your internet provider. But your internet provider may have thousands of DSL connections to their location. All of these connection aggregate at your internet provider who then has their own dedicated connection to the internet (or multiple connections) which is much larger than your single connection. They must have enough bandwidth to serve your computing needs as well as all of their other customers. So while you have a 1.54Mb connection to your internet provider, your internet provider may have a 255Mb connection to the internet so it can accommodate your needs and up to 166 other users (255/1.54).
A very simple analogy to use to understand bandwidth and traffic is to think of highways and cars. Bandwidth is the number of lanes on the highway and traffic is the number of cars on the highway. If you are the only car on a highway, you can travel very quickly. If you are stuck in the middle of rush hour, you may travel very slowly since all of the lanes are being used up.
Traffic is simply the number of bits that are transferred on network connections. It is easiest to understand traffic using examples. One Gigabyte is 2 to the 30th power (1,073,741,824) bytes. One gigabyte is equal to 1,024 megabytes. To put this in perspective, it takes one byte to store one character. Imagine 100 file cabinets in a building, each of these cabinets holds 1000 folders. Each folder has 100 papers. Each paper contains 100 characters -
If you were to transfer this MP3 song from a web site to your computer, you would create 4MB of traffic between the web site you are downloading from and your computer. Depending upon the network connection between the web site and the internet, the transfer may occur very quickly, or it could take time if other people are also downloading files at the same time. If, for example, the web site you download from has a 10MB connection to the internet, and you are the only person accessing that web site to download your MP3, your 4MB file will be the only traffic on that web site. However, if three people are all downloading that same MP at the same time, 12MB (3 x 4MB) of traffic has been created. Because in this example, the host only has 10MB of bandwidth, someone will have to wait. The network equipment at the hosting company will cycle through each person downloading the file and transfer a small portion at a time so each person's file transfer can take place, but the transfer for everyone downloading the file will be slower. If 100 people all came to the site and downloaded the MP3 at the same time, the transfers would be extremely slow. If the host wanted to decrease the time it took to download files simultaneously, it could increase the bandwidth of their internet connection (at a cost due to upgrading equipment).
In the example above, we discussed traffic in terms of downloading an MP3 file. However, each time you visit a web site, you are creating traffic, because in order to view that web page on your computer, the web page is first downloaded to your computer (between the web site and you) which is then displayed using your browser software (Internet Explorer, Netscape, etc.) . The page itself is simply a file that creates traffic just like the MP3 file in the example above (however, a web page is usually much smaller than a music file).
A web page may be very small or large depending upon the amount of text and the number and quality of images integrated within the web page. For example, the home page for CNN.com is about 200KB (200 Kilobytes = 200,000 bytes = 1,600,000 bits). This is typically large for a web page. In comparison, Yahoo's home page is about 70KB.
How Much Bandwidth Is Enough?
It depends (don't you hate that answer). But in truth, it does. Since bandwidth is a significant determinant of hosting plan prices, you should take time to determine just how much is right for you. Almost all hosting plans have bandwidth requirements measured in months, so you need to estimate the amount of bandwidth that will be required by your site on a monthly basis
If you do not intend to provide file download capability from your site, the formula for calculating bandwidth is fairly straightforward:
Average Daily Visitors x Average Page Views x Average Page Size x 31 x Fudge Factor
If you intend to allow people to download files from your site, your bandwidth calculation should be:
[(Average Daily Visitors x Average Page Views x Average Page Size) +
(Average Daily File Downloads x Average File Size)] x 31 x Fudge Factor
Let us examine each item in the formula:
Average Daily Visitors -
Average Page Views -
Average Page Size -
Average Daily File Downloads -
Average File Size -
Fudge Factor -
Usually, hosting plans offer bandwidth in terms of Gigabytes (GB) per month. This is why our formula takes daily averages and multiplies them by 31.
Most personal or small business sites will not need more than 1GB of bandwidth per month. If you have a web site that is composed of static web pages and you expect little traffic to your site on a daily basis, go with a low bandwidth plan. If you go over the amount of bandwidth allocated in your plan, your hosting company could charge you over usage fees, so if you think the traffic to your site will be significant, you may want to go through the calculations above to estimate the amount of bandwidth required in a hosting plan.