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Metered Bandwidth v. Unmetered Bandwidth

by Administrator

In my previous posting, I discussed the difference between throughput (95th percentile) and transfer (per gig). In this article, we’re going to dig a bit deeper and discuss the advantages of metered (un-capped) versus un-metered (capped) bandwidth.

We start with a question from Jonas, a reader, who asks, “With 95 Percentile, can I have my transfer rate limited to some upper limit so that I have a cap on what my bandwidth cost will be each month? I would worry that if I had 2 or 3 days with 10x my normal traffic I would have a heart attack when I get the bill.”

In a word: YES. You can have your bandwidth CAPPED, if you like, and if your hosting company will allow it. With that said, and I can only speak for NationalNet, we do not recommend our clients to cap their bandwidth and this is based on sound business practices. Here are some examples:

Example #1: You own a web site that earns you revenue, either by selling your wares on it or your clients pay a monthly fee to access your content. For whatever reason, your site starts getting an unusually high amount of good traffic, bandwidth goes UP, but so do REVENUES…and thus so do PROFITS! However, if your plan is capped, once you reach your capped limit, surfers are turned away or are greeted with a slow, almost impossible site to use. No one can make purchases on your site, or paying members cannot access your wonderful content, with the end result being LOSS of profit and revenue.

Example #2: You have a site that offers articles or content that others web sites are putting onto their web sites (and possibly paying you for your content) and your site gets listed on digg.com or is discussed on the major news outlets, thus getting hammered with traffic and bandwidth goes up. If you are capped, then it bottlenecks the site and surfers have to WAIT for the page to load until the people in line ahead of them are done…then your clients start complaining, possibly start canceling their service, because their surfers are complaining. Obviously, no one likes losing paying customers.

Of course, the previous two examples make the assumption that the traffic hitting your site is good quality traffic. However, there are times when your bandwidth is being stolen via hotlinking (another web site linking directly to images/content on YOUR server) and this is not desirable. At NationalNet, our monitoring system will alert us to abnormally high bandwidth, our system administrators will investigate and stop the thieves as well as notify you of this high bandwidth. However, you should make it a habit to check your website stats on a daily basis. Not only will this help you understand your traffic and visitors better; you’ll catch any large bandwidth jumps before they can be too costly for you.

So, as you can see, having a capped (unmetered) connection is probably not what you want. The key is making sure that you check your bandwidth stats on a regular basis and that you utilize a host that will watch it for you as well and alert you if the bandwidth starts to exceed your budgeted amount. Also, make sure that you know what bandwidth overages will cost you. Many hosting companies advertise their plans on their site and will list a server and some amount of bandwidth for X amount of dollars, but no where in the plan details does it list what the overages are, and in many cases, those overage charges are considerably more than what the regular commited rate is. Be sure you know what those charges are.

Now, with all of that said, there are times when an unmetered plan is exactly what you want. If you have a site that you know will never exceed your plan unless something really bad is happening, or you have a site that is not revenue driven, or you don’t really care if it’s slow at times, than an unmetered plan may be exactly what you need. Unmetered plans tend to be cheaper as well, due to the fact that the hosting company knows exactly how much bandwidth they must purchase and do not have to purchase extra bandwidth to cover overages and spikes.


Traffiic/bandwidth by its very nature is very spiky. On any given day, it goes up and down in fairly wild extremes. For instance, our own bandwidth graphs look like mountains and valleys. Joe surfer gets out of work, and the bandwidth goes up…and keeps going up until about midnight EST, when it starts going down. Special traffic deals, viral marketing, etc, all contribute to this “spikiness” (did I just make up a word?) Any host worth it’s salt must make sure that they have lots of extra bandwidth overhead to cover this spikiness, so that the actions of one or two webmasters does not affect everyone else.

It’s very expensive for a good host to pay for all that “bandwidth overhead”, but in the long run, it’s well worth it.

One final thing to be aware of regarding unmetered/capped plans is that many times these plans are on shared bandwidth. What this means is that the host or provider is actually capped themselves by their upstream providers, or that they have purchased a set amount of bandwidth and continually add customers to this set amount and hope that their customers never use all of the allocation. This is commonly called “overselling”. A good example is a host that has a 1 Gbps connection to their provider but sells 200 10 Mbps plans (the equivalent of 2 Gbps) on that single connection. The risk here is if even ½ of their customers use their entire allocation, all customers are going to suffer due to the lack of bandwidth to go around. Overselling is a risk that some hosts take, but NationalNet will never take. It’s not worth risking our reputation by having even one day where the network is slow due to overselling.

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NationalNet, Inc., Internet - Web Hosting, Marietta, GA
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