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What is a download allowance?

A download allowance refers to how much internet usage you are allowed in a given period.

Your ISP will set a download limit for the package you are on, and if you go over that could be charged, usually on a per-GB basis. This does not apply if you are on an unlimited data package.

File sizes are measured in megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB), while speeds are measured in megabits (Mb) or gigabits (Gb). For more information, read the uSwitch guide to bits and bytes.

Different amounts of data are downloaded depending on the task, but on the whole most plain text (like emails and websites) use tiny amounts, whereas gaming, video and music will easily cut through an allowance.

For example, if you have a 15GB limit and you want to download a BluRay movie of 10GB, that's two-thirds allowance down in one go.

Average broadband download sizes

  • 20Kb - text emails sent and received
  • 50Kb - 1 website page
  • 3Mb - 1 song
  • 3Mb - 1 video clip (3 minutes)
  • 400Mb - 1 film

Gb: Mb: Kb Conversions**

1Gb = 1024Mb
1Mb = 1024Kb

For more information read the uSwitch guide to bits & bytes.

1 day on a 3Gb package:

2.4MB - 50 text emails sent and received

10MB - 200 website pages

50MB - 10 songs

=62.4MB or around 3 hours online.

These are estimated values. In practice it is hard to know how much you are going to use until you start downloading. However, one way to do so is to use a program that monitors the amount of data you are using.

Unlimited broadband

There are a number of broadband packages on the market that advertise unlimited downloads. While this looks like the best deal going, it is important to read the small print. If you study the contract terms closely you will find that most (if not all) unlimited broadband packages are subject to fair usage policies.

A fair usage policy stops any one user using up the majority of bandwidth set aside for an Internet provider by limiting their speeds at peak hours of the day.

Often broadband providers will notify heavy-users by phone or email to warn them that speeds will be curtailed at certain times.

These policies mostly impact those who use Peer-to-Peer software, as well as online gamers and people who stream large volumes of songs and films.

Compare unlimited broadband packages at uSwitch now.

Mobile broadband

Download allowances on many 3G mobile broadband packages are a lot lower than on home broadband packages and they're often lower still with newer 4G products. For this reason, mobile broadband is less suitable for users who watch or download large amounts of video and music.

If you think you're going to make extensive use of your dongle, it's a good idea to choose one of the many mobile broadband products with a 5GB monthly download limit, or even one that offers unlimited usage.

Exceeding the download limits

Exceeding the download allowance of your broadband provider can incur a cost from some ISPs. Such costs are detailed in the terms and conditions of your contract. Other ISPs will not charge extra for extra downloads, but they may curb the speed of your connection.