Australia's uncapped broadband data dream dies

The dream of broadband without data limits is set to slip through Australians' fingers, as countries like the UK start to wave goodbye to their own uncapped plans.

The dream of broadband without data limits is set to slip through Australians' fingers, as countries like the UK start to wave goodbye to their own uncapped plans.

The days of unlimited plans -- standard in the UK -- will soon come to a close, according to Michael Philpott, principal analyst at research firm Ovum. Such offers are likely to disappear "quite soon actually -- I would say within 12 months, simply because you hear it more and more", he told ZDNet.com.au sister site ZDNet.co.uk.

The emergence of data intensive content such as IP television has made the plans unfeasible, according to a spokesperson for UK ISP PlusNet. "It's not just a single-price, all-you-can-eat market any more," the spokesperson said.

While the UK get to grips with data caps for the first time, Australians are seeing their caps get ever larger. According to a recent report by the Internet Industry Association (IIA), while prices are remaining static, users' data caps are increasing, driven by competition between ISPs.

The reason Australia is heading towards offering more data while the UK and other countries want to offer less is Australia's broadband history, according to David Kennedy, research director at Ovum. In the '90s, a bandwidth shortage coupled with Australian users' fondness for US content meant data was expensive, Kennedy said. "Telstra and other ISPs reacted by capping data," he said.

Currently, according to OECD statistics released in October, Australia is one of only very few countries to continue with data caps.

Kennedy said he does think such caps are set to become a thing of the past, as international markets begin to consider implementing them. "There is very little chance we will be going the other way," he said.

Research firm Market Clarity CEO Shara Evans agreed: "I wouldn't be holding my breath for the holy grail of unlimited Internet access for a normal plan price."

"Content is growing, and growing in a symmetrical manner," she said, as users not only access Web sites, but also produce content themselves.

There are some ISPs who cater for heavy users such as file sharers or graphic game players by offering plans without data caps, Ovum's Kennedy said, but there has been a "bit of pulling back over the last 12 months" from service providers, with moves including the introduction of traffic shaping for P2P.

"In effect the other users have been subsidising these guys [P2P users] for a long time," Kennedy said. "If you want to use the network that intensively you should pay more for it."

Although the unlimited dream may have slipped from its grasp, Australia will avoid disruption as the international market reverts to caps, Kennedy said. "We're used to it, and it's not that hard to get data allocation caps that easily meet the needs of the user."

David Meyer of ZDNet.co.uk contributed to this article