Unlimited means unlimited, right? Um, not always. Especially when you’re talking about bandwidth. A lot of web hosting companies say they offer unlimited bandwidth, but do they really mean what they say or is it just a marketing gimmick?
First, let’s talk a bit about what bandwidth really is. It’s a term that’s bandied about and frequently misunderstood and misused. The “dictionary” definition of bandwidth is “the speed of transmission in bits per second,” but when a web host talks about bandwidth, they’re not usually talking about speed. Rather, they’re talking about the amount of data you can transfer. And if they say you have unlimited bandwidth, that should mean that there’s no limit to the amount of data you can transfer.
But is that the case?
Hostgator, one of the top web hosting companies, actually addresses this issue straight on… sort of. In their support FAQ, in response to a question about bandwidth, they state “unlimited does not mean infinite.” Hmmm. OK, going to the dictionary now. Merriam-Webster, nothing rinky-dink here. Let’s see… unlimited… what could it mean? How about:
“2. boundless, infinite”
Hostgator actually addressed the “unlimited” controversy when they started offering “unlimited bandwidth” back in 2007.
“Is Hostgator Selling Out? What exactly is unlimited? Well, I just got done going to the top 5 largest web hosting companies I could think of and the lowest plan I could find was for a few 100 gigs of disk space with thousands of gigs of bandwidth for less than $10 a month. These are all scam plans because like most hosts we have something called a Terms of Service that mentions CPU and memory limits. It is close to impossible to use what we are all selling you without being suspended for going over CPU and memory.”
Please don’t think I’m picking on Hostgator. Quite the opposite. In my opinion, they’re one of the more reputable web hosts and I highly recommend them. And to my knowledge, they’re the only web hosting company that’s actually honest about this process (even though you have to dig a little find the truth). Hostgator was essentially forced into offering unlimited bandwidth, even though for years they warned potential customers against plans that purport to offer it. If they didn’t offer unlimited hosting, customers would abandon them for companies that purport to offer it.
So how does all this affect you and your hosting choices?
Well, here’s what actually happens, as explained by another web hosting company (esoSoft) that tells the truth:
“Truth be told, there really is no such thing as “unlimited” bandwidth. If any hosting company truly offered unlimited bandwidth, large sites such as Yahoo would sign up with that hosting company and save themselves tens of thousands of dollars each month. If any company does claim to offer completely unlimited bandwidth, that company is either misleading customers, grossly inexperienced, or both. What we mean by unlimited bandwidth is that we will not put any artificial limits on your account. We monitor all accounts and those that become “bandwidth hogs” will be invited to make other arrangements for their site.”
In reality, most small businesses will be fine with the standard “unlimited” plan. But check out the terms of service, and you’ll find that if you go over the limit (which is often not specified), you’ll have to upgrade, possibly to a dedicated hosting plan. I suggest that when you’re ready to choose a web host, you contact their customer service, tell them what you’re going to be doing with your web site, and ask them which hosting plan will meet your needs.
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