Updated March 8, 2019
Who doesn’t remember the internet dreams of the 90s? A time when we considered our innocent wanderings through the foliage of the internet, free of inhibitions.
We could search whatever we wanted. Read whatever we wanted. Look at whoever we wanted. Granted it took half an hour to load a single image, but nevertheless, we felt free.
As time went on, internet speeds increased. Our bandwidths increased. Our screens got smaller and mobile. “Unlimited Data Plans” were introduced and unlimited possibilities seemed to be just over the horizon.
Nothing would stop us… Except for our ISPs.
The rude awakening left all of us bon vivant internet users bleary-eyed. And one of the most damaging means through which the internet police reaped their sorrows was through these aforementioned “Unlimited Data Plans”.
"Unlimited" Data Plans Can Be Limited By ISPs
Internet service providers (ISPs) have been caught red-handed for what has become known as Bandwidth Throttling. It’s the practice of tapering off the bandwidth allowance of customers when they’re trying to use the internet for specific high data usage browsing, typically streaming. It is particularly a problem for mobile data.
Streaming any video takes up a hell of a lot more data than reading an article. But the difference between streaming at 420p and streaming at 4K qualities is around 5 times as much information being communicated per second.
The reason your ISP is throttling your data is clear. They’re trying to save themselves money by offering unlimited plans while only giving a limited amount of data to their users.
Why Do ISPs Throttle Data?
The ISPs would argue they’re limiting bandwidth or data usage in the interest of fairness. There’s only so much data they can offer all their customers at any one moment, so why does this one user need to stream a cat video on their mobile in 4K?
Except before you go all Karl Marx on me and agree with the ISP companies, just remember, you paid for an unlimited data plan.
You paid good money to watch that cat on your tiny iPhone's screen in 4K. You will see every strand of fur on that kitten’s body, and you will use pages from your tattered copy of Das Kapital to wipe up the tears because of how cute it is.
Don’t think ISPs are throttling your bandwidth? Here’s the lowdown on 4 of the USA’s top mobile data providers:
- Verizon (Go/Beyond)
- Soft data cap: 22GB (Beyond). Go plans always subject to throttling.
- Maximum video resolution: 480p(go)/720p(beyond) (smartphones)
- Price: Go Unlimited is $80/mo for a single device; Beyond Unlimted is $90/mo
- AT&T (Choice/Plus)
- Soft data cap: Choice offers 3mbps until 22GB. “Plus” offers unthrottled 4G until 22GB.
- Maximum video resolution: 480p(Choice)/720P(Plus)
- Price: AT&T Unlimited &More is $70/mo
- Soft data cap: Throttling top 3% users 'data hogs'
- Maximum video resolution: 720p or lower
- Price: T-Mobile One Plus is $80/mo
- Soft data cap: No cap
- Maximum video resolution: 480p
- Price: Sprint Unlimited Freedom is $60/mo
ISPs have been unashamedly throttling the bandwidth users are paying for, by monitoring which websites and services you are using, and then altering your service accordingly.
How Can You Get Around Bandwidth Throttling?
Here’s where VPNs come in. A VPN will encrypt all of the information that is associated with your internet traffic, keeping it private. This means that your ISP can no longer monitor the traffic in your internet usage. There are two clear advantages to that.
Firstly, if the ISPs don’t know how you’re using your internet, they can’t throttle your bandwidth anytime you want to watch a kitten in 4K while on the toilet.
Secondly, a VPN stops this nefarious trend of your internet habits being directly overseen by companies and governments. Just because these ISPs give you access to the internet, does not give them the right to police how you wish to use it.
If you agree with any of those points, then a VPN might be the way forward.
Best VPNs For Getting Around Bandwidth Throttling
If you want a VPN to stop bandwidth throttling, it’s important to note you’ll need a VPN that promises high speeds itself. If you want to stream in 4K, a minimum of 10-25Mbps of bandwidth will be necessary.
Here are the VPNs we recommend:
One of the fastest providers globally, IPVanish uses 256/bit encryption, a step above the standardized 128-bit encryption. Allowing up to five simultaneous connections, it’s our top recommendation. It also comes with a free mobile client available on Android and IOS.
VyprVPN is slightly pricier than IPVanish, but this dependable VPN has a vastly superior mobile client and can circumnavigate Netflix’s block – one many other VPNs fall before the gate of.
Here’s a cheap option that's genuinely something to be quite cheerful about. Private Internet Access gave us great 4K streaming speeds and is a zero-log service, for the more privacy concerned customers.
A final note, if your ISP enforces a general cap on data usage then encrypting your data won't get around this. For everyone else, give using a VPN a try.