Capped, Uncapped and Unmetered

Recently we’ve seen an explosion of uncapped accounts entering the market. We’ve also seen that they are typically horribly slow in comparison to capped accounts – and if one goes and reads most of the acceptable use policies it becomes clear that they are in fact not uncapped, but rather, severely shaped capped accounts.

Shaping implies that certain traffic classes will get priority over others, so for example http traffic and smtp to their local services will be OK’ish and mostly everything else will be rather bad. This, dear providers, is NOT broadband. This is abuse of the word uncapped and you should clearly mark your products for what they are. If you have a “soft cap” of 30GB – that is still a cap. If you have a (like IS’s newly released business class uncapped accounts) floating CAP – state it (thanks IS, at least you don’t try to mislead here, 20 GB over 10-days floating CAP with the top 20 % of users throttled sounds reasonable).

Now, the price tag on the IS uncapped account mentioned above is slightly in excess of R2000 ex VAT. For my office I’ll need two of those accounts (we run through approximately 100GB worth of traffic each month and I’m NOT willing to sacrifice on quality of the service). For those doing the math already, R4400 vs R5000 … yea. If those were the complete facts I might consider switching and doing some careful load balancing over the two accounts to try and stay out of the top 20 % as well as to remain under the floating cap. However, the price difference isn’t severe enough for me to honestly consider it, and I’ve got another trick up my sleave: split routing.

I’ve approximately three years ago figured out how to separate local and international bandwidth at the client premises into two separate accounts. This allows me to utilize cheap local-only ADSL accounts for local bandwidth, and normal blended ADSL accounts for my international traffic. Seeing that our split is about 60 % local 40 % international this means that my cost ends up being around R2500 to R3000 per month, ex VAT for my bandwidth every month. And I get this at the same quality that you’ve come to expect from SAIX’s ADSL accounts. No frills, no fuss, good international latencies (usually at around 250 to 300 ms) and excellent local latencies of as low as 10ms (compared to around 25 to 30 on IS accounts).

Even three years ago this was beneficial, and I thought that this concept was going to be killed when the uncapped accounts started entering the market … yet the opposite has become true – I’ve now got even more inquiries asking WHY uncapped is so bad, and what alternatives are there. And this is only from a “consumer dsl” perspective (ie, sme and home market).
When one starts looking at data centres the costs associated with bandwidth starts looking even worse. No more el-cheapo ADSL (yes, trust me when I tell you ADSL bandwidth is EXTREMELY cheap). Now you have to start getting things like metro-ethernet. You need to start buying transit. If you’re hosting you’re most likely paying per GB over a certain thresshold (eg, first 3GB for your server is included with monthly and after that you’re paying per GB). If you’re the hosting environment you’re most likely buying bandwidth in per mega-bit chunks.
No matter in which of these arenas you’re playing there is NO SUCH THING as uncapped bandwidth. Either you’re being limited by an artificial cap such as you can use 3GB at any rate you please (which is also a lie as the upstream BW has a limit in terms of bits per second) or you’re being limited by the bits per second.

What uncapped really means is unmetered. In other words: We will allow you to consume bandwidth at an average of X bits per second, and we won’t actually (for billing purposes) measure how many bytes you push over the link. This means immediately that you pay for capacity instead of per byte. It’s also possibly to buy such unmetered solutions in an oversubscribed manner, for example, you can buy “gold” or “silver” transit from SAIX, “gold” means that you will have a contention ratio of 1:1 (meaning you will always be able to use your full capacity), or with silver you can get a contention ratio of 3:1 – which means that permitting that the other people aren’t consuming bandwidth you can burst up to your pipe size, but you’re only guaranteed of a third of it. Either way – 4Mbps of this is likely to make you understand why uncapped ADSL is a bad idea.

4 Responses to “Capped, Uncapped and Unmetered”

  1. Jaco Kroon says:

    There is a secondary issue I forgot to mention which may or may not get sorted out for good some time soon. Without exception the uncapped accounts all make use of Seacom bandwidth, which at the moment breaks down just about as often as it’s working. I can’t build a business on something that only works half the time.

  2. Stephen says:

    Apart from the usual Seacom problems, I’ve been using Mweb home uncapped at two different locations and the quality is actually quite good.
    I rarely do any torrents over it, so I can’t comment on that. Web browsing, ftp and streaming is always fast.

    I can download at 350mBps and still stream youtube without buffering and browse as normal.

    From the few times I checked, the latency was good, but I never got 10ms locally.

    I don’t work for mweb 😛 Just my 2c

  3. Jaco Kroon says:

    Keep in mind that MWeb has peerings with TENET which is hosting a local google (youtube) content cache, so most of that bandwidth is local, and going over a fast fibre link.

    Keep in mind that these accounts are generally shaped in order to favor http traffic, so that browsing will be responsive. http traffic can also be cached very aggressively, further enhancing the browsing experience.

    Streaming will most likely vary on where you’re streaming from, and the protocol being used for streaming. Seeing that MWeb themselves are pushing streaming technology chances are quite good that they have optimizations in place in order to enhance this experience as well.

    I don’t personally use torrents, but I do make heavy use of VPN, both IPSec, OpenVPN and pptp and I can promise you, many of my clients that have uncapped accounts that try to VPN in to our systems are bitching like there’s no tomorrow.

    Regarding the 350mBps … I have no idea how you’re managing to exceed the physical DSL capacity by a factor of almost 100, unless you intended to state 350KBps in which case you’ve just made my point: It should be 440KBps.

  4. Stephen says:

    Yes, I meant 350KBps 😛
    I have used Axxess SAIX accounts before and rarely managed to get constant 400KBps. I also doubt that many people will get full capacity on adsl, but I’ve never used 4mbps adsl in a big city environment, so I can’t really comment on that.

    I also failed to mention that I have a Vtun vpn running from my home to the office and do various things, such as VoIP, SSH and RDP over it and it runs all very good.

    Although I agree with your post, since all the other ISP’s out there have soft caps if they’re not shaping the living hell out of it. I’m just impressed with what mweb has done so far. I have been hesitant to use them in the beginning because I class them in the same category as Telkom when it comes to customer service.