Planhacker: Unlimited Broadband Deals April 2011

“Unlimited” broadband deals are becoming rarer and rarer in Australia, but a number of providers continue to offer no-limits, no-shaping services. Here’s your comprehensive guide to what’s on offer in unlimited broadband deals right now — and which services you should avoid.

Since we last looked at unlimited broadband back in January, what was already a fairly limited field has shrunk in some respects. Comcen has dropped its “unlimited” plans altogether; given that their maximum speed was lower than what some providers offer as a shaping speed, they’re not likely to be much missed. In other changes, Netbay has reduced the number of plans it offers, Supernerd is enforcing a minimum 8-month contract on its plans, and TPG has reduced its setup fees.

Conversely, readers have alerted us to a bunch of other providers offering unlimited plans we hadn’t encountered before. Very few seem particularly appealing or good value (many only offer slower ADSL1 speeds and have ludicrous restrictions), but we’ve added them in for completeness.

The restricted range of plans on offer with reasonable speeds and conditions supports our long-standing contention that most providers have no interest in offering unlimited plans. While the plans we’ve listed here do meet the basic definition of an unlimited service — no download limits and no shaping — nearly all of them have some kind of restrictions attached.

As well as invariably having an acceptable usage policy to allow blocking ridiculously excessive usage, most providers also have other catches, which we discuss below. The most prominent is that many of the ADSL1 providers actually block torrent traffic (and I can’t imagine anyone who wants an unlimited plan is not a heavy torrent/P2P user). Remember also that unlimited services won’t necessarily be available in your area.

In the table below, we’ve listed all the unlimited plans for home users we’re aware of, including their monthly cost, the standard setup fee (which could be lower if you are moving from an ISP that supports rapid transfer) and the total minimum cost over the lifetime of a contract. (For a 0-month contract, this equates to the setup fee plus one month’s access, though many providers charge an additional fee if you quit before 6 or 12 months.) We haven’t included equipment charges.

Where plans require you to sign up for a home phone line from the same provider, we’ve included that cost in the minimum monthly cost; we haven’t included discounts offered if you bundle with other services. (Other than iPrimus and TPG, unlimited plans haven’t widely appeared as a naked DSL option, so you will likely end up paying for a land line in some form.)

We’ve indicated the maximum speed for each plan on the table; in practice, your actual speed will be lower than the claimed maximum. Note that the slower ADSL1 unlimited plans can actually be slower than the shaping speed offered on plans which do have a download limit, so they rarely represent a good choice.

Here’s the full table; you can click on the column headers to filter down results to specific prices, providers, speeds or other features. You can also access this as a PDF.

Here’s our quick summary of each provider:

AUNIX, ISAGE, ITG, LOCALL: The big limitation with these providers is that they bar torrent traffic altogether. Combined with ADSL1 speeds on the cheaper plans, that makes for an unappealing deal.

AANET, BULLET, EFTEL, ISP, NETBAY, ONESENIORS, SUPERNERD, VOIPEX: Only offer ADSL1 speeds, which makes them unappealing. In practice, a terabyte plan with a decent shaping speed will give you better performance most of the month. Bullet and OneSeniors are particularly expensive.

DODO: You have to sign up for home phone service from Dodo, which won’t necessarily save you money depending on your call habits. Dodo also has a variable reputation for customer service. Most tellingly, BitTorrent connections on this plan are shaped, which means it won’t be much use to most people who want an unlimited plan.

IPRIMUS, CLUBTELCO: If ADSL2 speeds are available at your location, these are the best-looking no-contract options. The iPrimus offering is one of only two naked DSL plans on offer.

TPG: TPG has a broad but slightly weird range of options: you can pay $59.99 for an unlimited plan that includes line rental, $59.99 for an unlimited plan which doesn’t include line rental, or $69.99 for a naked unlimited plan. Choosing anything other than the first option doesn’t seem like a particularly sensible way to spend your money — why pay the same amount to get less features? Nonetheless, this is the best of the bunch in overall value terms, and certainly the most popular amongst Lifehacker commenters. The biggest issue is whether you’ll be able to access it; TPG only offers it in selected exchanges.

For details of the individual plans, hit the provider web sites:

Know of an unlimited plan we’ve missed? Happy with a 1TB+ plan and a little shaping? Tell us in the comments.

Lifehacker’s weekly Planhacker column rounds up the best communication deals.

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