Unlimited Bandwidth is a common, and often repeated, marketing strategy for lots of web hosters. On the surface this sounds like a great idea and a feature every website should be looking for. In reality, this is a fallacy that can’t, won’t, and doesn’t really exist.
Bandwidth Costs Money
Every hosting company has to pay for its bandwidth. At its essence bandwidth is all about data transfer and how much you can upload and download from a particular website. This bandwidth is determined by volume and speed and both of these things cost money. A hoster has to pay for the amount of bandwidth it has available to provide and at what speed they receive it at. This cost has to trickle down to the users as a cost of service.
Bandwidth is Managed by the Server
Each time a website or page gets called on the server the server has to take a moment to process the request. Hundreds of thousands of these requests can happen simultaneously on a server and a server can very quickly get overloaded by these requests if it isn’t robust enough to handle a particular volume at a particular time. More powerful servers can handle plenty of increased requests constantly but, much like bandwidth, this increased hardware requirement also costs money.
When a hoster offers unlimited bandwidth this is done with the idea that most hosting accounts will rarely use much of their bandwidth. With this thought in mind hosters can mitigate the risk of upgrades and replacing equipment. However, unlimited bandwidth typically attracts high bandwidth users who are well aware that they use ALOT of bandwidth for their websites.
These high bandwidth users are attracted to hosters who provide unlimited bandwidth for the same reason you are: an environment designed to accommodate a successful and popular website.
The problem with this is that the majority of bandwidth hungry websites are providing illegal downloads or spam. This affects you when the server is blacklisted for sending out spam to other servers and email accounts and your business email can no longer be delivered because your server is now concerned a server of ill-repute.
This is No Such Thing As Unlimited Bandwidth
Unlimited Bandwidth is available to you so long as you don’t actually try to use it. Most hosters who provide “unlimited bandwidth” do so with the caveat of “fair usage” policies. These policies are designed to allow the hoster to arbitrarily decide when the amount of bandwidth you are using is “unfair” to other people / sites on the same server as you. This is not a metric or predefined limit that you can be aware of to avoid because then it isn’t “unlimited”. By keeping this policy vague and arbitrary they are able to market that they do offer “unlimited bandwidth”.
Not all “unlimited bandwidth” hosters have fair usage policies. A lot of startup hosters offer this because they have plenty of bandwidth to spare as they are working to attract customers. Eventually this will be forced to change.
Bandwidth Quotas Are a Good Thing
Bandwidth quotas keep the amount of bandwidth used by each individual account on the server at a reasonable and fair rate and are priced accordingly. Hosters are not interested in making things difficult for their users but they do want to keep as many users happy as possible. When a website gets popular the hoster doesn’t become popular because of it but can become very unpopular when other account holders find it difficult or annoying to make use of their services.