Cheapest and Best Unlimited Wireless Broadband:Some of the cheapest broadband deals may have a usage allowance, which sets a download limit that may be as low as 1 Gb a month. If you only look at web pages and emails, this may not be a problem. But if you download many files or play games online, you might want a package that offers unlimited access. In particular, if you're in a household with several internet users, you'll need an unlimited wireless broadband deal.
Most providers now offer packages that have cheap unlimited broadband. However, don't take these at face value because they generally don't allow completely unlimited usage. You really need to read the terms and conditions to find what you're getting.
Virgin Media has several packages that all offer unlimited wireless broadband. These promise unlimited downloads 'as a basic right'. However, its Acceptable Use Policy states that, although it does not limit monthly network usage, it may take 'appropriate action' if excessive usage is having a detrimental effect on other users. This is all a bit vague but suggests limits can be imposed in exceptional circumstances, which is reckoned to affect only 0.1% of customers and only at busy times (between 9am and 9pm).
The O2 standard package features unlimited downloads with no limits on monthly network usage. Should your activities be so excessive that they impact on others, you may get a written warning and ultimately a termination or suspension of service.
BT also has an unlimited option that is subject to network management, which means that very heavy users may have their speed reduced.
Tiscali also has a fair usage policy and operates traffic management measures to optimise the service.
The policy from all providers seems to be that, although they may offer unlimited downloads, they will impose some sort of limit in case of excessive use at peak times. This applies to even the best unlimited broadband deals and the reason for it is that several users share the same line. If they're all on together and several are downloading large files or playing games, this leads to congestion and may result in action by the provider.
Recent developments have made the problem worse. These include broadband phone use and the availability of tools such as the BBC's iPlayer that have resulted in more TV programmes being viewed on PCs. Fibre optic broadband, with its increased download speeds, will mean congestion times may be less frequent. However, it may also encourage more downloads and so the effect on unlimited internet is yet to be seen.
The issue for consumers is obviously the vague wording which allows the provider to unequivocally decide what is fair usage. † [last update: 11.11.09]