Nowadays, we see a lot of polished advertising campaigns offering us bigger, better and cheaper services. We’re constantly bombarded with messages encouraging us to switch energy, phone and broadband providers. The barrage of sales calls at home and in the office, grinding us down to invest in upgrades and new products. But among the appealing headings and slogans, we should all beware of hyperbole and misnomer.

One of the great misrepresentations in the age of the World Wide Web, is the concept of “unlimited broadband”. Consumers and businesses alike fall victim to the mis-sold product. Prepare yourself for a shock – truly unlimited broadband, doesn’t actually exist.

Broadband services are always limited in one of three ways. If you think about it logically, it would be impossible for any company to offer unlimited broadband to everybody, because bandwidth simply isn’t infinite. If everybody decided they wanted to transfer large documents or download high definition videos at the same time, it would soon become clear just how limited broadband is.

So-called “traffic shaping” is the most common way for providers to manage broadband service. It involves monitoring the customer’s usage, and slowing down traffic for example, those who are downloading data most intensively. This enables them to service more users, offering priority speeds to those dependent on fast internet to deliver smooth operation, but effectively limiting the access of heavier users.

Companies who don’t operate on a policy of traffic shaping, leave their customers at risk of falling victim to considerable congestion. Although not direct and deliberate, this is still a form of limitation and prevents unhampered internet access. Some internet providers, rather than offering “unlimited” access, provide variable bills based on actual usage, especially during peak periods. But consumers and business customers often feel uneasy about variable bills, with many still opting for what they have been led to believe is the “unlimited” option.

So, what’s the solution? Well, in the first instance, it’s about being realistic about the fact that your broadband speed won’t necessarily always perform at exactly the same speed. But it’s also important to establish priorities – buying in the cheapest “unlimited” offer, might not necessarily be in your interests. Companies may be piling users onto overstretched broadband infrastructure, ultimately delivering weaker service. But in an increasingly e-dependent world, especially in business, maintaining strong connectivity has never been more vital. In such a world, service and coverage must surely be a priority.

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