4. Your ISP is in control of how fast your net access is
It’s not just about getting the fastest possible connection from your home to the internet. Even with the best hardware in the world, you aren’t going to enjoy blazing-fast downloads if your network gets congested. Imagine signing a two-year contract only to discover that at peak times, everything slows to a crawl and you can’t even get through a half hour show on Netflix without constant buffering.
It’s up to each individual ISP to make an educated guess about how many of their users are going to be online at peak times, and how heavily they’ll be using their connections. They then have to buy the appropriate amount of capacity to make sure they can offer the bandwidth needed to deliver everyone’s data at a reasonable speed. They also have to make sure that they don’t have more users on the service at one time than their pipes can handle.
While you’d probably think that smaller, less well-known ISPs would be the most likely to scrimp on such things, the well-publicised problems that iiNet had at the launch of Netflix in Australia showed that high demand can take even the largest of ISPs by surprise.
What you ideally want is an ISP that can provide a fast, reliable service without signing up too many customers for their network to handle. And there’s no easy answer to finding that. Your best friend is research, and the best place to do that is the forums over at Whirlpool, which for years have been the go-to for anyone wanting to discuss their internet service and complain about any problems that arise. So it pays to have a browse through the forums and see what people are saying about the ISPs you’re considering.
5. The best things in life are free!
Many ISPs offer a selection of sites and services “unmetered” – that is, no matter how much data you download while using those services, it won’t count towards your monthly limit.
For example, iiNet offers unmetered Netflix streaming, taking advantage of their ability to host a Netflix server on their own network. That’s a biggie for a lot of people, allowing you to binge in HD for as long as you like and never make a dent in your download allowance.
iiNet’s “Freezone” extends beyond Netflix, too, also offering unmetered downloads from iTunes, unmetered gaming on your Xbox, and more.
For gamers, Internode and iiNet offer unmetered downloads from PC gaming service Steam. With modern PC games clocking in at huge sizes – over 60GB for Grand Theft Auto V for example – that can be a very useful thing indeed.
Telstra’s Bigpond, meanwhile, offers a mammoth list of unmetered content, including its own streaming services, the AFL web site and all of the AFL team web sites, Bigpond Movies and Music and more.
There’s no one-stop shop for unmetered everything – if that’s what you’re after, you’re better off going for an unlimited-data plan, which are becoming the norm anyway. But if you know your usage habits and choose the right ISP, you might just find yourself with a bit of a bargain.