• How fast is unlimited?

    The Big 3 recently began offering data plans that did away with overages. Instead of charging you an absurd amount to refill your data bucket when it runs out, the plans simply slow down your speed till your monthly cycle resets.

    So how slow is slow? When you go over your allotment, TELUS slows your connection down to 512Kbps - note the lowercase “B” in kbps. In this context a lowercase “B”, kbps indicates kiloBITS while an uppercase “B”, Kbps means kiloBYTES. 8 Kilobits makes 1 Kilobyte so 512Kbps is a nicer way of saying 64KBps. Would you rather have a dollar or 100 cents?

    64KBps used to be pretty fast - around 14 years ago when the cutting edge was literally, an EDGE network.

    Anyways I figured I jump on my time machine and subject myself to these speeds. I loaded up TMeter on my Windows 10 laptop, and made it so Firefox would be limited to 64KBps.

    Why did I use a laptop instead of a phone? A rooted Android phone can also be setup to do this but it’s easier on a laptop. I could have also done this with a WiFi router but mine doesn’t have the necessary QoS settings.

    Long story short, all that work was for naught as the bandwidth meter routinely showed the speeds spiking above 64Kbps. While they only spiked to just over 100Kbps it’s enough that I wasn’t comfortable drawing conclusions from it.

    Next I decided to see just how good or bad a 64Kbps video looked. I haven’t dabbled with encoding in quite some time but I opened up Handbrake and decided to use its most efficient codecs. In this case I took a quick video and then encoded it using H.265 with the HEVC codec with a resolution of 480p, a bit rate of 448Kbps and an audio bitrate of 64Kbps (448+64=512).

    The result isn’t amazing but it’s very watchable. I don’t know what codec’s streaming sites like YouTube, Netflix are using but H.265 is the future.

    Here’s a link if you want to view the samples:

    Note that you’ll need to download the videos first before you view them. If you just view them from your browser you’ll get heavily compressed versions. The original shot from an iPhone is the .MOV file while the mp4 is the one I put through Handbrake.

    Anyways, the video doesn’t look amazing but it’s very watchable, the sort of settings you’d be fine with if you were watching while sitting on a bus or walking around. Video compression has come a long way.

    If you’re sending a lot of video or images it’s going to be a similar situation. They’re usually heavily compressed so while sending and receiving them won’t happen instantly, it will still be relatively quick because they’re usually heavily compressed.

    Aside from the drop in image quality, you’ll also notice a difference if your phone is sending and receiving data from multiple apps at once. That’s where the 64KBps bottleneck will be really noticeable.

    I was hoping I could say something witty like 512kbps is infinitely slow or endlessly slow but in the end, while 64Kbps isn’t ideal it’s usable in a pinch.

    Looking at the bigger picture; carriers are always advertising how fast their networks are or how they’re the fastest. When was the last time you wished the network was faster? If you did, remember network speed is only part of the equation of how fast a phone feels.

    Until something disrupts the way we currently use their networks the real story is that they’re able to have greater capacity. That plus the fact that carriers could always raise their “after unlimited” speeds means at some point, those speeds could be good enough that many users will choose to save their dollars (or 100’s of cents) and choose smaller data buckets and just deal with the reduced speeds.

    I also wonder when we’ll reach the point when carriers feel confident enough about their capacity that they’ll begin offering plans that have maximum speeds like wired providers.

    Or maybe I should be more skeptical and assume carriers are already at this point and are just waiting for as long as possible before plans catch up.
    This article was originally published in forum thread: How fast is unlimited? started by howard View original post
    Comments 6 Comments
    1. @Class's Avatar
      @Class -
      Fantastic writeup Howard... You know it is a usable connection on Telus - Rogers and Bell are offering half of that which really isn't the same situation. No video, no streaming on highest quality... Plus all the background stuff the phone does anyways like mail syncing it's going to become an issue.

      What irks me most is this is even a thing. We need to figure out if 2G speeds are still usable in 2019 when 5G is about to come out. Oh Canada, we're all Canadians!
    1. olic's Avatar
      olic -
      I tried to use my smartphone while limiting the speed to 512 kbps with the QoS of my router.

      The result is good! I could watch YouTube without problems in 360p, even 480p with a slight wait at the beginning. I could listen to the web radio, use Google maps without slowness. On the web, everything depends on the pages, but in general, it is also quite usable.

      In short, I could finish the month without problems at this speed if I reach my limit...

      Then, I tried at 256 kbps and it's really more painful. Youtube must be limited to 240p and it takes time to load. 144p is more fluid. The mapping is functional, but I can't use the satellite view. Many websites become very slow.

      I am also eager to read the experiences of the first users who will reach the limits. For the moment, this is theoretical. Maybe Bell and Rogers will finally be better than Telus, if they not limit the speed if the network is not saturated, while Telus could limit always speed.

      But, if the theory is true... I, currently subscribe to Rogers and, although I would like to stay with this company, since they serve me well for a long time and their network works very well for me, I will probably go to Telus, if Rogers does not adjust. The 512 kbps VS 256 is significant.
    1. @Class's Avatar
      @Class -
      Quote Originally Posted by olic View Post
      I am also eager to read the experiences of the first users who will reach the limits. For the moment, this is theoretical.
      I went well over my pro-rated amount and nothing happened. I still ended up using another GB so I stopped the test. When I signed up I was pro-rated 5 days at 1.66 GB and blew past that to about 2.4 GB before I thought well it's clearly not throttling me back and I could be into the month's full GB.

      This wasn't what was stated on the signup from Telus online that the CR show me so who knows.
    1. Ipse's Avatar
      Ipse -
      For most people 2Mbps (lowercase b) would be perfect but the cartel knows that and will twist your arm to get bigger packages - that you won't consume 90%of the time - by offering a sub-par experience once you get capped.
      T-mobile just de-prioritizes your data when you go over the 50GB (F...G FIFTY!!!!!!) so it's not as brutal.
    1. @Class's Avatar
      @Class -
      Quote Originally Posted by Ipse View Post
      For most people 2Mbps (lowercase b) would be perfect but the cartel knows that and will twist your arm to get bigger packages - that you won't consume 90%of the time - by offering a sub-par experience once you get capped.
      T-mobile just de-prioritizes your data when you go over the 50GB (F...G FIFTY!!!!!!) so it's not as brutal.
      America = Awesome!
      UK, EU, AU = Awesome!
      Canada = Booo...
    1. MrGreenleaf's Avatar
      MrGreenleaf -
      The way I see it, throttled unlimited data is there to enable you to continue using essential services after you use up your data. You can still send/receive emails, you can still hail an uber, you can still load map data, you can still browse websites, etc. If you need to watch a video, you can wait till you have wifi access.

      I think it's great for canadian telecom that more and more providers are offering throttled unlimited data instead of cutting you off. WInd/Freedom did it all along, but now the big 3 are offering it on their "unlimited" plans, Lucky mobile offers it on some of their plans, I think Chatr does too, etc. This is the norm in most of the world, it's just in Canada where they cut off your data after your allotment. Imagine if your electricity company completely cut off your electricity after you used up a certain amount.

      I find it both sad and funny that Koodo advertises their "shock-free data" as a positive thing. They've managed to spin cutting off your service as a desirable feature, and most people actually accepted it as a positive thing! Whoever was in charge of marketing there deserves a raise.

      Hopefully throttled unlimited will become the norm for all Canadian carriers in the not too distant future. And of course people who don't want to be throttled should always have the option of paying for more full speed data. I think this will become a reality soon as internet access continues to get cheaper with technologies such as Starlink (and its competitors) coming online.
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