Streaming has very quickly become the norm for home entertainment. There is a lot more variety and, if you choose the correct internet package, it is a lot more affordable that traditional pay-TV.
Due to the exponential growth of streaming services such as Netflix, as well as the increased number of players in the internet-provider space, many customers have been left somewhat confused about where to start when choosing the internet package that best suits them. The thing is, it’s not that complicated - you just need to get a handle on a few of the basics to decide which option is going to work for you.
What is the difference between downloading and streaming?
Streaming means you are watching videos or listening to music straight from the internet in real-time. You can compare it to live television or radio in the sense that you can only watch or listen while the tv / radio is switched on. Streaming works the same way - you can only watch or listen whilst connected to the internet.
Downloading means you save the file (movie / series / song etc) to your own device, whether it’s a laptop, tablet, or phone. Once you have downloaded the file it sits on your device and you can watch or listen even if you aren’t connected. It’s the same as looking through photos saved to your phone - you don’t need to be online to view them.
On the same note, the file will only be available on the device where you saved it (same as the photos). So, if you have saved a movie on your laptop, you can only watch it on that laptop, but you don’t have to be connected to the internet to watch it.
Downloading vs. streaming: which is better?
Downloading is ideal for saving songs or movies that you want to be able to access when you don’t have reliable internet. For example, if you want to make sure your kids have something to watch in the car when going on holiday.
For daily use, however, streaming makes much more sense as you can watch or listen without using up space on your devices to download and save files.
What is capped and uncapped data?
Uncapped data means that there is no restriction on the total amount of data you can use. Bandwidth refers to the amount / capacity of data you can stream at one time. You can compare it to a large river or dam serving your water taps; as opposed to a small local tank that can run dry during the month.
By using uncapped data for streaming, you would minimise your costs for bandwidth, but you may experience interruptions or intermittent buffering at peak usage times. This means you are only receiving a small amount of data at a certain point, and this may cause the movie to pause and buffer while it waits for your data to ‘catch up’ with the amount of data it actually needs.
With capped data, you should experience better quality, but you may have to top up when the data cap is reached. Uncapped data is generally free of throttling at peak times.
What is the difference between shaped and unshaped data?
In addition to capped / uncapped, many providers are also offering shaped / unshaped data packages. Shaping is a fancy way of saying your internet use is being limited during peak usage times.
A shaped internet package will allow you to happily send emails and surf the internet, but if you try to do anything that requires a lot of data, such as streaming movies or music, your internet speed may be too slow at peak times, depending on the size of your package. This may impact your ability to stream Netflix or Showmax, for example.
Shaped data often goes hand-in-hand with uncapped data
Service providers use shaping to protect the average service levels to their customer base. This is fine for low-use internet such as emails and a little bit of social media, but these restricted packages may not allow you to enjoy streaming entertainment. If this is unacceptable, the options will be an upgrade to a larger uncapped package or to a suitable capped package.
One should also consider using an ISP that provides more bandwidth and therefore do not need to apply throttling (maybe only in extreme misuse situations). The pricing of such quality ISP’s will probably be somewhat more; compared to lower quality providers. Yet, you will be able to do satisfactory streaming on a smaller package at a lower total cost. Therefore, what looks like an expensive product from a quality ISP, will most often result is a lower price to pay for the purpose; relative to a seemingly lower priced package/ISP that brings a lot less value.
Are there other nasty surprises with uncapped?
Many consumers are concerned about nasty cost surprises when opting for uncapped and unshaped data - nobody wants a bill of hundreds or even thousands more than they expected. To prevent this, uncapped and unshaped data packages often have an acceptable use policy (AUP) that specifically addresses this concern.
It’s crucial that you read the AUP before signing up. We know it’s not thrilling reading material, but this is the policy that will help you prevent excessive internet costs.
‘Acceptable use’ varies depending on your service provider as well as the package you choose, so you really do need to read it. In a nutshell: the AUP is almost a consideration / ‘manners’ guide. Even if your fibre is uncapped and unshaped, there is a certain point or data amount that is considered excessive. Should your monthly usage reach that point, your service provider will most likely throttle (slow down) your internet speed, even with uncapped packages. This will prevent users from going so far over the acceptable usage amount that it leads to additional cost.
That said, to reach the point where you are going over the acceptable use limit on an uncapped and unshaped fibre line, you really need to use up a lot more data than you normally do. Therefore, if you choose the right package for your household from the start, know the terms of your AUP, and occasionally check your internet usage throughout the month, it is very unlikely that you will reach the point where your line is throttled or additional costs are incurred.
What is the streaming capacity used by Netflix?
According to My Broadband, the following minimum bandwidth is required for streaming Netflix: SD (480p) - 2 Mbps, HD (720p) - 4 Mbps, Full HD (1080p) - 5 Mbps, 4K/UHD (2160p) - 15 Mbps
Please note that the Netflix package may limit the quality, regardless of your available bandwidth. The device that you stream on, may also limit the quality achieved.
Further considerations to determine the right package are the number (and type of) devices simultaneously connected to the internet. You need to plan for the total bandwidth needed.
The stability of your Wifi connection from router to the devices and any interference with the wifi signals will also diminish the throughput and resulting picture quality.
Variances to the throughput available from the streaming content provider (ie throttling by Netflix or Showmax) are further factors to consider.
Need help choosing the right internet package for you and your family? Get in touch with our fibre to the home experts and we’ll help you pick out a package that’s fit for purpose and won’t let you down.