Unlimited vs metered vs unmetered bandwidth hosting

Data center server room lit with green lights
(Image credit: Shutterstock/Tomasz Wozniak)

Whether you’re searching for a solid web hosting provider to start a website or looking to switch your current web hosting solution for a superior one, you’ll have to consider a couple of things. 

For starters, you’ll want to choose a superb web hosting company with a good track record and without any major security incidents in the past. Then, you’ll want to have a wide variety of web hosting solutions to choose from - from simple shared hosting to a virtual private server (VPS) hosting solutions. 

When picking out a web hosting plan, you’ll want to consider what value for money it provides as well as the resources you’ll get at your disposal. Namely, the number of central processing unit (CPU) cores, amount of random access memory (RAM), GB of solid-state drive (SSD) storage space, and available bandwidth. 

The last one, bandwidth, can be displayed in terms of traffic (max number of visitors per month) or TBs of transferred data. Also, while bandwidth isn’t one of the first things that come to mind when you’re looking for a web hosting solution, it’s critical for your site’s speed performance and customer satisfaction.

In this guide, we’ll clear up what bandwidth is and what metered, unmetered, and unlimited types of bandwidth truly mean.

What is bandwidth in web hosting? 

Broadly speaking, an amount of available bandwidth matches the maximum data that can be transferred in a predetermined period of time - it’s typically MB or GB per second - Mbps or Gbps. The higher the Mbps or Gbps, the higher amount of data that can be transferred - send and received - at the same time. 

In terms of web hosting, the amount of available bandwidth is the maximum data that your server is able to transfer every time a user tries to access it. For instance, if the hosting plan of your choice promises 100 Mbps bandwidth, it means your server can transfer up to 100 megabits of data per second - which is fast, but not lightning fast. 

In simplest terms, bandwidth is a combination of speed (MB or GB) and time (per second), and you need it to keep the visitors to your site satisfied. The more bandwidth you have, the more people can pay a visit to your site and the less amount of valuable traffic you lose. 

What is metered bandwidth? 

To put it simply, metered bandwidth is a type of bandwidth connection that is monitored and measured by its provider - that is, your web host. 

This means that you’ll pay upfront for a specific amount of bandwidth you’re planning to use - it should be measured in GB or TB per month. For instance, if you’ve purchased a web hosting plan that supports up to 100GB of bandwidth per month, this will amount to 10,000 to 20,000 visitors per month - which is alright for a small to mid-sized site. So, this 100GB is the upper limit of bandwidth you’re allowed to use per month.

If you exceed the upper limit, three scenarios can play out, and all of them can be bad for business. At the first, your site will simply stop working and you’ll be forced to contact your provider’s support staff to solve this issue. The second and the third scenarios are pretty similar: one includes you being charged extra for extra data you’ve used and the other includes your web hosting plan being automatically upgraded to the one that supports more bandwidth usage. 

Metered type of bandwidth is best for small to mid-sized businesses that don’t have worldwide ambitions in mind and plan to use a single site. Also, it will work for personal online projects such as blogs. 

What is unlimited bandwidth? 

If unlimited bandwidth sounds too good to be true, it’s because it truly is. The first thing you should know about it is that, despite what its name suggests, it’s in fact surprisingly limited. 

Firstly, the speed is limited - so, if you hoped to get “unlimited speed”, you'd better guess again. However, this isn’t your fault, since some web hosting companies aren’t upfront about it. 

In a sense, unlimited bandwidth is much like metered bandwidth but with a higher upper limit which is sometimes cleverly concealed in the service level agreement (SLA). For instance, if with a metered bandwidth hosting you have a data cap of 100GB, with an unmetered one it would be something close to 500GB - remember, it’s not unlimited after all. 

The primary reason the companies won’t concern themselves with informing you about this upfront is that they suppose you won’t end up using more than 500GB - or the amount specified in the SLA. 

So, don’t forget to check out the small print before subscribing to unlimited bandwidth hosting.

What is unmetered bandwidth? 

Unmetered bandwidth is more true to the term “unlimited bandwidth” than the actual unlimited bandwidth ever is. With unmetered bandwidth hosting you get to use any amount of data you want - the amount of data transfer isn’t monitored and there are no limits attached to it. 

This also implies you can be confident you won’t be charged all of a sudden if you surpass the upper limit, nor will your hosting plan be upgraded to a pricier one behind your back. So, if you own a site with an increasing amount of data being transferred around it, that’s won’t turn into an issue. 

So, one of the advantages of utilizing unmetered bandwidth hosting is having a perfectly flat price for the speed - so, no need to worry about sudden price spikes. If you choose a hosting package that allows 50Mbps, your speed will be limited to 50Mbps, and that’s about it. Also, you won’t need to concern yourselves with data exhaustion ever again. 

A flat price for a specified speed - that’s the core of unmetered bandwidth hosting. The amount of data your server transfers is not one of your concerns. 


(Image credit: Panumas Nikhomkhai / Pexels)

Metered vs unmetered vs unlimited: Which one is best for you? 

While metered bandwidth is simple to understand, unlimited bandwidth and unmetered bandwidth hosting tend to get mixed up - and the companies are partially to blame for that. Since we’ve already sorted out what these are, let’s also clear up which one is the best out of the bunch. 

Well, there’s no straight answer to this dilemma as it depends on your professional needs as well as the amount of money you’re willing to invest in your web hosting solution.

If you’re running a personal blog or a small business site, metered bandwidth might be the best choice for you. However, if you own a business site that takes up massive amounts of traffic - such as an ecommerce platform, news site, or online gaming site - then unmetered bandwidth is your best bet. Still, be prepared to pay a pretty penny for it.  

Considering the very term “unlimited bandwidth” is misleading, don’t sign up for anything before you've checked out the small print. It’s much like metered bandwidth hosting but less straightforward about it.  

Mirza Bahic is a freelance tech journalist and blogger from Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. For the past four years, Mirza has been ghostwriting for a number of tech start-ups from various industries, including cloud, retail and B2B technology.