As well as providing multi-channel digital TV entertainment and voice calls, you can also access the internet at broadband speeds through fibre optic cable connections in the home. If you live in an area with cable access, then you can sign up for cable broadband services, which are currently available exclusively through Virgin Media, the multi-platform 'Quad Play' communications company formed after the merger of NTL:Telewest and Virgin.net. Getting broadband via a Cable connection has a number of advantages over the traditional ADSL/phoneline method in that faster top speeds are available, and the connection does not suffer from the 'distance from the exchange' slowdown.
Cable Broadband connections are delivered over fibre optic lines - bundles of tiny plastic and glass fibres that transmit information via pulses of light forming an electromagnetic wave which transmits information from one end of the cable. This method of information transfer is more efficient than the traditional copperwire phoneline method, due to the fact that cable connections can stretch across huge distances without any noticeable difference in connection quality or speed. There is also virtually no 'crosstalk' interference between cables, so connections are also more reliable and less likely to see users being 'dropped' from the internet.
The data efficiency of Cable Broadband connections are so great that they allow for virtually unlimited download limits for broadband customers. Subscribers are free to download as many audio tracks, photos, software updates, patches for games and DVD-quality movies without having to worry about eating into a finite usage limit, or even worry about straying over an invisible and undefined fair usage.
Whilst there is no limit on downloads per se, with Cable Broadband services, there is usually a 'peak time' limit during which your downloads are usually restricted. This is because of the nature of how fibre optic connections are sourced to the home.
In a fibre-enabled street, a cable connection will generally run up to a single nexus in a local area, usually in an exterior cabinet; all connections from this cabinet then run off underground to individual premises. Because of this shared nature of connections, peak time limits are in place to ensure that there is a level playing field for all customers using the service; one person downloading hundreds of films would mean that other customers who just want to get online to check emails would have trouble doing so.
Currently, Virgin Media's 'traffic management' policy sees customers exceeding defined download limits between the hours of 4PM and 9PM have their connection speed dropped to up to 75 per cent of the top speed available for a 5 hour period - this means that if you're planning on doing some heavy downloading, all you have to do is wait until later in the evening to avoid having your connection dropped.
It's worth mentioning that on average Virgin Media only have to apply traffic management to roughly 5 per cent of their customers on average, so if you only download a handful of files and updates or a single film or game title during a peak time period, it's unlikely that you'll see your connection dropped.
As with ADSL Broadband, when talking about download limits here, it is important to note that general web use, i.e. browsing sites, using Facebook and Myspace, sending emails, contributes to a download limit. Just because you're not 'downloading' something, doesn't mean that you're not using bandwidth.