Mind the data cap

BLAYNE SLABBERT
Last updated 05:00 31/05/2014

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For years Kiwis have monitored their internet use for fear of chewing through their data allowance and being charged extra or face restricted speeds.

But in the past few months the floodgates have opened, with providers scrambling to offer unlimited broadband plans to customers.

Some are offering extra enticements similar to what banks use to lure borrowers, such as Vodafone's deal of six month's free Sky.

While the plans appear affordable, there are several issues to look out for before you sign up.

Firstly, do you really need access to hundreds of gigabytes of data?

If you are only browsing websites, checking email and doing the occasional video call, then the answer is no.

But if you are streaming movies or games then this could be the data deal you've been waiting for.

Most internet providers charge about $85 a month for 80GB of data (an ADSL plan not including a phone) which would be enough for most web users.

However, if you pay another $20 a month you can get the all-you-can-use package which may be tempting, but not necessary.

Over the past few years Kiwis having been increasing their data allowance, but the levels are still not that high.

Research done last year by Statistics New Zealand shows the average Kiwi home uses about 23GB of data a month, enough to stream high-definition videos for about an hour every day of the month, and still have some to spare.

The most popular data cap range was between 20GB and 50GB.

However, there are about 300,000 homes with plans in the 50GB-100GB range, an increase of 117 per cent from 2012.

These heavy users are the ones internet providers are targeting with their unlimited plans.

If you are edging toward your data cap each month, then opting for an unlimited plan may save you the pain of being stung for top-ups.

The other thing to consider is whether it's better spending your money on a faster service rather than more data.

Going from ADSL (normal broadband) to VDSL (a faster version) can make quite a difference to your web experience. According to data from independent broadband tester Truenet, Telecom and Snap's VDSL is more than twice as fast as their ADSL offerings. This would cost you about $15 extra a month, which is money well spent if you find yourself getting impatient with slow-loading websites.

And if your home has access to UFB (ultra fast broadband), then an upgrade to turbo boost your internet should be carefully considered with download speeds of between 30mbs and 100mbs compared with up to 24mbs with ADSL. Going from ADSL to a 100mbs service will cost about $40 more a month.

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One feature to consider if you do go for an unlimited plan is that your speed may be restricted by your provider.

It's called traffic management and providers use it to ensure certain types of traffic (video calling, streaming, and web browsing) are given priority over downloading when usage is heavy. This usually occurs at peak times from 6pm to midnight.

The move toward unlimited plans is good news for Kiwis.

Data caps have been a reality here for many years while unlimited plans were the standard offering in a lot of countries.

Comcast, one of the largest providers in the United States, is moving toward data caps just as users get used to endless streaming of TV shows, movies and music.

It claims some people are using up to 35 terabytes of data a month - the equivalent of downloading 285,000 movies.

As more streaming services are available online here, the more people will seek out unlimited plans.

Most people only stream the odd show from TVNZ or TV3, but with the arrival of Telecom's yet-to-be revealed television streaming service and other similar services, demand will increase significantly.

So keep one eye on how much data you are using each month and the other on the increasingly tempting deals offered by internet providers.

INTERNET USE

❏ Browsing + email: 5GB/month

❏ Browsing + TV streaming: 10-30GB/month

❏ Browsing + TV streaming Skype + downloads: 40-80GB/month

❏ Everything, including gaming: 100GB+

- The Dominion Post

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