Unlimited Internet Just a Myth?
By Thameenah Razeek
The long awaited ‘unlimited internet package’ fantasy is finally here! Recently, the Government announced the taxpayers of the country will be fortunate to use ‘unlimited internet’. Simultaneously, many concerns were raised, as to whether unlimited internet is just a myth with so many grey areas. Therefore, the question is, do unlimited data plans really exist?
What are unlimited internet packages?
Unlimited internet packages or unlimited broadband, allows customers to use their internet without additional charges or restrictions of any kind. Unlimited broadband has no usage cap and no traffic management. You’ll always receive the fastest internet service and can use as much internet as you wish to no penalties. You still might experience a drop in speed, during peak hours, but not because your Internet Service Provider (ISP) has artificially reduced it.
With truly unlimited broadband, you don’t have to worry about how much internet you use, if you’re a heavy internet user.
Without the option of unlimited broadband on your internet contract, you would end up needing to treat your internet like you would a mobile phone contract, monitoring your data activity to avoid exceeding the allotted monthly amount and incurring extra fees
In simple words, when a company offers ‘unlimited internet’ that really means you’ll get all the data you want as long as you follow their rules. The technical definition is internet use without caps or concerns about fair use.
Unlimited broadband in Sri Lanka
The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka (TRCSL) recently revealed that discussions with the ISPs that went on for months are now gearing up to unveil their unlimited internet packages by next week.
Addressing a session at ‘Internet Day 2021’, which was held virtually, TRCSL Director General Oshada Senanayake said, the plans put forward by the operators have been reviewed, approved, and would be rolled out by next week.
However, Senanayake stressed, although the industry will deliver unlimited internet, users should not expect the service at unlimited speed, as traffic is expected to increase on the networks following the launch. “One cannot expect unlimited data and unlimited speeds. It depends on the consumption. What we need to understand is, we have followed the global industry’s best practices,” said Senanayake.
He added, to ensure the quality of connectivity is maintained, operators have the discretion to ban those abusing the facility. Meanwhile, another official from TRCSL claimed, the county’s telecom regulator plans to provide ‘unlimited’ internet packages to the public, not subject to a Fair Use Policy (FUP).
The TRCSL has already issued directives to operators to submit plans for ‘unlimited internet packages’. “COVID-19 made ISPs to introduce broadband facilities, operators offered split data plans, offering anytime and night time data for subscribers with a FUP in place. While some reduce the speed after the allocated data quota was over, some charged for additional used data. He stated, following the COVID-19 pandemic, most operators offered unlimited data plans at added cost for some websites and apps used by customers.
Speaking further Senanayake said, instructions were given accordingly, to provide unlimited data packages in early March, and all service providers have submitted unlimited packages to the TRCSL for approval.
With the forthcoming Sinhala-Tamil New Year celebrations, the relevant packages will be provided to the customers by the ISPs. The TRCSL has conducted a large study on the unlimited use of unlimited data in other countries. While acknowledging that unlimited internet is not actually unlimited, he said, they identified that the packages were designed according to a speed limit and the price of packages approved by the commission will be determined by speed.
“Other countries have taken steps to prevent the misuse of unlimited data and Sri Lanka also would take steps to prevent such misuse. If there is any problem regarding this, the TRCSL can be contacted through 1900,” he said.
However, the proposed unlimited packages will be an extension of the experience gained by ISPs in providing platform-specific unlimited packages such as data plans for YouTube, WhatsApp, etc.“Speeds will continue to be maintained,” he said, depending on the speed of the connection whether it is fibre, LTE or 3G.
When asked about the speed of the internet, Senanayake said, a fast internet will be there if you don’t use it much. “But as long as you browse through our affiliates. With this type of plan, you will get unlimited data as long as you use an affiliate of the ISP to access content.
Discussions also disclosed that infrastructure development is already underway in parallel to this project, with operators investing in coverage expansion.
Myths and Rumours
Even though this new facility came into light many rumours and myths started spreading across the island saying that these plans aren’t really unlimited.
Large scale ISPs in Sri Lanka expressed that implementing unlimited data plans for users might be challenging for Sri Lankan telecommunication service providers as they have to invest more to provide the necessary units (bytes).
SLT-Mobitel Chief Executive Officer K A Kiththi Perera told shareholders that Sri Lanka is a small nation and the scale of its network is insignificant when compared to India, Indonesia and Bangladesh.“The scale of the network and economies of scale in these countries are high, so we must invest more per unit (byte) compared to other markets,” he said.
While insisting that investing large amounts and offering lower broadband tariffs continues to be a challenge, he said that they need to maintain a steady cash flow, nurture their staff and conduct CSR activities whereas providing competitive prices for our growing customer base.
Another spokesperson for a leading ISP said, many plans give you a monthly data allowance.
“They call themselves ‘unlimited’ because they don’t cut off your access to data. Instead, they throttle, which means they slow your speeds way down. Video content that runs smoothly most of the time suddenly doesn’t load properly, or pauses and reboots throughout your viewing. Load times increase, and you get frustrated waiting,” he said adding that this is not a mistake that ISP makes.
Instead, it is a feature they build in, in part to convince you to buy a more expansive plan. You have to choose among rationing your usage through the month, living with slow periods, or investing in an unlimited plan with higher limits.
The COVID-19 pandemic drew the attention of the TRCSL to introduce unlimited data packages due to the increased use of virtual platforms. The necessary steps were taken in the year 2021. But the packages and the allocated speed limits are yet to be announced and citizens of the country are pondering for the best.