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Article: Bandwidth and 'Unlimited' Bandwidth

Bandwidth Explained

What Is Bandwidth?

When you access a web site, you are downloading a file. This file can be an HTML web page, a GIF image, a MIDI sound file, or a combination of these. These files are downloaded to your computer and displayed in your web browser.

Each time you download a file, data is being transferred. The amount of data depends on the size of the file. If you download a web page that is 1 kilobyte (1,024 bytes), or 1 KB, in size, then 1 KB of data has been transferred. If 100 people access that same web page, then 100 KB of data has been transferred.

Term Meaning Number of Bytes
KB Kilobyte 1,024
MB Megabyte 1,048,576
GB Gigabyte 1,073,741,824

Bandwidth is the term used to measure the amount of data being transferred from your web space. This does not directly relate to the number of 'hits' (views) a web site receives. One single hit to a web page that is 100 KB in size uses the same amount of bandwidth as 100 hits to a 1 KB page.

You will want to be wary of any host offering a certain amount of 'hits'. Always look for a bandwidth allotment when looking for a host.

How much do I need?

Let's imagine we give three people, John, Mary, and Kathy, each a $1,000 gift certificate to a shopping mall. They can spend that however they wish and take as many different trips to the mall as needed to spend the money.

    Mary is a money wise shopper. She buys a lot of small items over a period of time, making many trips to the mall.

    Kathy makes fewer trips than Mary, spending around $100 each time purchasing quite a few items each trip.

    John is a big spender. He buys a new stereo system and spends the whole $1,000 in one trip.

If the $1,000 is an amount of bandwidth, with the shopping mall being the web server, here's what it would boil down to:

    Mary's site would be a smaller web site with very few graphics, but lots of traffic (hits). Her site wouldn't use a lot of bandwidth per hit.

    Kathy's site would have a lot of graphics and other overhead, so hers wouldn't take as many hits to use up her bandwidth.

    John's site would offer a large file for download, probably a shareware program or video file. His site would use a lot of bandwidth with a single hit.

So what does this mean?

The above example shows us that there is no defined number of hits available to a given amount of bandwidth - it depends on what is being downloaded for each hit. Obviously, the larger the download, the more bandwidth is used, and thus the less hits you can have for that amount of bandwidth.

How much bandwidth a site will use depends on many factors. You have to consider what kinds of files people will be downloading, along with how many people will be downloading them.

What About Unlimited Bandwidth?
   There is no such thing!

If and when you run across a host claiming to offer Unlimited Bandwidth, you will definitely want to find out what their meaning of unlimited really is (or better yet, just turn and run). No host can really offer true unlimited bandwidth. If you could get unlimited bandwidth for around $20.00 a month or less, why isn't Yahoo or Microsoft hosted there?

You will find that there is no such thing as unlimited. Somewhere, you should find a statement describing what is meant by the term. Usually it will fall under one of three categories:

  1. Your site must 'qualify' for unlimited bandwidth.

    A lot of hosts do this - if your site uses less than, say, 5 gigs per month, it qualifies for unlimited bandwidth. As soon as your traffic goes above that you no longer qualify for the unlimited bandwidth and are either charged for the excess or forced to move your site. In other words, it's unlimited as long as you stay within the limits.

  2. Restricted bandwidth.

    This is where a host allows you all the bandwidth you want, providing that you do not offer mp3, zip, tar, exe, and a number of other file types that are usually larger than standard HTML and graphics. Or they may limit the amount or size of files you can have on your web space. Or they may limit the types of pages you can have, such as "no image galleries." Further, they usually require that all files stored in your space be linked only from your own pages. This means that you must use all of your files, graphics, etc, only on your web site, and cannot allow other sites to link to them (other than linking to your HTML).

  3. Outright lie.

    There are some hosts that simply advertise things that they cannot offer. They say things like "We won't penalize you for your success," but once your site does become too popular, you find that your account has been deactivated. A lot of these hosts will have stipulations buried in their Terms of Service that don't relate to bandwidth, but that they can easily snag anyone on. These are little backup plans they use as an excuse to deactivate an account, usually without refund, for whatever reason they want to. This way they are not known for kicking sites off for bandwidth reasons, but rather for a TOS violation. But word does travel...

Luckily the hosts that fall under # 3 usually do not last unless they change their policies before too many people become aware of their business practices.

Why do they do it?

Hosts use false advertising because other hosts do it. They figure that the majority of consumers do not understand how little bandwidth they really need, and will never know that it is not really unlimited. For the most part it is true that most people do not understand bandwidth - they see a limit at one host, and another host with no limit, and they figure better safe than sorry... Unfortunately, there are those who do use it and learn this lesson the hard way.

Statistically, most sites use less than 500 MB per month, which is 1/2 of one gig. Unless you are offering software or music or video downloads or are just very popular, you shouldn't have to worry too much about bandwidth. Just keep in mind that if a host falsely advertises unlimited bandwidth, who knows what else they are lying about or what other tricks they might pull? We recommend that if you see a host making this offer, you don't even consider hosting with them. Don't support this dirty trick, and don't risk your time and money on a host that obviously isn't trustworthy.


If you're in the market for webhosting, we recommend FutureQuest for the absolute best hosting experience out there, or DreamHost for a solid, lower cost alternative.

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