Updated on 18 May 2015.
One of the best things about broadband internet is the high-speed connection that comes with it. Internet browsing used to feel more like crawling than surfing, but using broadband means web pages can be loaded almost instantly.
It also means you can download a huge amount of songs, films, and other media to your desktop without a long wait. It is easy to let this new freedom go to your head and opt for a broadband package with unlimited downloads - however many find that they only use a fraction of this allowance, meaning they end up paying out for more than they need.
So how do you figure out what download limit you really need? We show you how to assess your own broadband usage to determine which limit is right for you.
A download limit is the maximum amount of data that you can transfer from the internet to your computer, usually expressed as an amount of gigabytes. A gigabyte (GB) is equal to around 1000 megabytes or one billion bytes, which are used to measure units of information. Most broadband packages will specify how many gigabytes users are allowed to download each month.
In practical terms, this means that a 1GB limit would allow you to download around 10,500 web pages, 100,000 emails, or around 400 average-sized images or music files each month.
Download limits generally range from 1GB a month to around 40GB, and some packages impose no limit on how much you can download per month. When signing up for a broadband package you'll have to identify how much you and the people you live with are likely to download each month and then choose a suitable limit accordingly.
Those who use the internet for moderate surfing and never download more than the occasional film or song have a real opportunity to save money on their broadband bundle by going for a low download limit. If your main activity on the internet consists of browsing, sending and reading emails and occasionally streaming videos or music, there's no need to be paying out for a package whose download limit is infinite.
Generally if you go for the lowest download limit of 1GB you will be able to look at up to 10,500 web pages and download 205 mp3 songs (equivalent to about 20 albums) each month. This may well be adequate for you if you don't use the internet very often, or if you don't tend to download or stream TV, radio, movies, or music.
However it's worth noting that if you do go for a low download limit you'll have to be certain that you won't need more than your set amount per month - some broadband providers will charge you extra if you exceed your set limit. So this is something worth taking into consideration when deciding which limit to go for. However, this charge generally won't be extraordinarily high so it may be cheaper to exceed your limit occasionally rather than pay for a higher download limit - but it's still worth checking all the associated costs of your package.
If you think you may stray beyond a 10GB limit you may be more suited to a slightly higher limit, but still don't need to opt for unlimited downloads. Medium internet users who download a few movies or songs per month, and use their internet connection daily.
Around 15GB will enable you to look at around 157,000 web pages a month and download 3070 mp3 songs (equivalent to about 300 albums). So a slightly higher download limit may be suitable for you if you think your internet usage would fall into this group. Remember again though that if you exceed your limit you are likely to be charged - though this is unlikely to be something for you to worry about if you only use the internet moderately.
Generally speaking a 30GB limit will enable you to look at around 314,500 web pages a month and download about 6145 mp3 songs (equivalent to about 600albums). If you think you're likely to exceed a 30GB limit then you might consider getting a download limit of up to 40GB per month.
This is particularly applicable to people who use the internet very frequently, download software, video and music regularly, stream video and music content or play online games. However if you expect that you will need more allowance than this you can opt for 'unlimited' broadband, which will allow you to download as much as you want per month with little restriction.
The word 'unlimited' alone can make the internet package sound like the most exciting one to go for, but look beyond the sales pitch and consider what you really do need from the internet. If you frequently download films, songs, TV, and so on, or if you are a keen internet gamer, or if internet surfing is one of your favourite pastimes, having no limit on the amount you can download may suit you. However it's worth bearing in mind that you only really need an unlimited connection if your internet use is excessive.
Also it's important to note that many unlimited download packages are not in fact as 'unlimited' as they seem to be - many broadband providers impose a 'cap' on how much you can download. This means that if you go over a certain very high limit your service may be temporarily suspended or you may be charged. This generally isn't something to worry about though unless you use the internet very excessively, to the point that other users' connections are suffering.
If you take a look at how much you do download on average per month, you should be able to find a broadband package with the right download limit for you - meaning you aren't paying out unnecessarily for a limit you never reach.
You can compare your options in our broadband deals comparison table.
Written by Sally at money.co.uk
A slow broadband connection can be extremely frustrating, especially if you decided on your internet package because of its advertised speed. We share some practical steps you can take to improve the performance of your broadband.
You could save yourself money by combining 4 of your favourite technology luxuries into 1 "Quad Play" home media package. We explore what this involves and how it can help you save money.
In an age of downloading and streaming it's important to find a broadband package that works in tandem with your online lifestyle. Here are 4 steps to find the perfect broadband deal for you.
How to speed up a slow broadband connection
Can a 4-In-1 'Quad Play' media package save you money?
Broadband basics: 4 steps to the perfect package
10 broadband tricks techs swear by
11 easy ways to slash your broadband & home phone bills
What broadband speed is right for you?
Can I get broadband without a phone line?
How To Switch Your Broadband Without the Headache
How to Get Free Calls with VoIP
8 steps to speed up your broadband connection
Get expert tips that will help you spend and save smarter, even if you're short on time.