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August 12, 2013

Questioning Carbonite’s “Unlimited” Backup Service Claims

Filed under: Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:28 am

Over the years, cell, long distance, and cable companies have advertised “unlimited” services, but a close reading of the fine print almost always reveals that the services are not truly unlimited.

Last year, in the UK, ASA, the private organization that enforces a voluntary advertising code, came down hard on Carbonite — the online file backup service that sends a copy of the files from your home computer up to the “cloud” for safekeeping.

In both the US and UK, Carbonite advertised “unlimited” backup service for an annual service fee:

Buried in their UK website was an unexpected catch:


Bandwidth Throttling: Yes (35GB, 200GB)

Huh? Even buried deeper in the site in a blog post was an explanation:


Carbonite Home allocates more bandwidth to users doing a typical initial backup of less than 35GB, and less to users after their backup exceeds 200GB. Once your initial backup is complete, updates to your backup usually take only a few minutes each day.

This bandwidth policy has three tiers. Users performing a smaller backup will usually see faster upload speeds than users with larger backups. However, depending on your Internet connection, your computer’s configuration, other Internet-enabled software you may be running, and how often you use your computer, actual backup speeds may vary. The current maximum upload speeds are as follows:

– The first 35GB of data can achieve upload speeds of up to 2 mbps (megabits per second).
– Between 35GB and 200GB of data, upload speeds can reach up to 512 kbps (kilobits per second).
– At 200GB or more of data, upload speeds are limited to around 100 kbps (kilobits per second).

In plain English, just like some cell companies that slow down your connection when you use more than a certain allotment of data, so does Carbonite. They throttle your upload connection down to a crawl when you are uploading a lot of files. The result is that while you think you have backed up all your files, it may take weeks to actually do so, if you have a large hard drive.

The advertising watchdog in the UK felt this limitation was not made clear to consumers who signed up for unlimited service and therefore ruled against them ordering that they more clearly disclose the upload limitation.

• • •


  1. Gotta read that fine print.

    Technically the service is still unlimited, but there was no guarantee that speed will stay the same. I thought the UK had a great internet infrastructure and that throttling wouldn’t be necessary there. Either I assumed incorrectly or Carbonite is taking advantage of customers.

    Comment by Wayne R — August 12, 2013 @ 8:31 am
  2. Do the math. Best case: Your first 35GB will be backed up in about a day. Your next 165GB will be backed up at the rate of about 10GB per day, or about 2 and a half weeks. This is assuming your PC is actively backing up to Carbonite 24 hours a day AND that the maximum (“up to”) speeds are being achieved all the time. Anything above 200GB will be backed up at about 2GB per day. There’s no word here in this article on how fast you can retrieve your backups should you need to do so.

    My quick calculations are as follows, using the 100kbps upload speed:
    100 kilobits per second = about 22 kilobytes per second (8 bits = 1 byte)
    times 60 = 1320 KB per minute = about 1.3 MB per minute (1000 or 1024 KB = 1 megabyte, depending on how you count)
    times 60 = 84 MB per hour
    times 24 = 2016 MB per day = about 2 GB per day (1000 or 1024 MB = 1 gigabyte, again depending on who is doing the counting)

    The 512kbps speed for the 35-200 GB tranche is about 5 times faster and the 2mbps speed for the first 35GB is about 20 times faster than the 100kbps speed.

    So, if you have 500GB to back up, you’re looking at about a 6 month process for the initial backup to complete, assuming you’re running 24/7 and achieving the maximum advertised speeds. Clearly, Carbonite isn’t a realistic option for those that need to back up “large” amounts of data.

    Comment by Richard P — August 12, 2013 @ 10:39 am
  3. Oops, I made a boo-boo. 100 kbps = about 12 kilobytes per second, not 22. Darn, I should have checked that better before I hit Submit Comment. So all of my times are too optimistic by almost a factor of 2. I should have said:

    100 kilobits per second = about 12 kilobytes per second (8 bits = 1 byte)
    times 60 = 720 KB per minute = about 0.72 MB per minute (1000 or 1024 KB = 1 megabyte, depending on how you count)
    times 60 = about 43 MB per hour
    times 24 = 1032 MB per day = about 1 GB per day (1000 or 1024 MB = 1 gigabyte, again depending on who is doing the counting)

    Your 500GB back up will take almost a year.


    Comment by Richard P — August 12, 2013 @ 10:47 am
  4. Well, I was going to defend the word ‘unlimited’ should refer to storage space (not bandwidth), but now am amazed at the show pace of getting stuff backed up. I’ll give them a month to back up my stuff at a steady trickle, but almost a year? Wow.

    And here is an easy way to calculate, Richard:

    Comment by Dave J. — August 12, 2013 @ 12:40 pm
  5. Use Crash Plan. Truly unlimited with no additional fees or throttling. (I have no affiliation with either Crash Plan or Carbonite!)

    Comment by Art Golden — August 12, 2013 @ 4:30 pm
  6. THROTTLE, transitive verb

    1b : to prevent or check expression or activity of: suppress
    2a : to decrease the flow of (as steam or fuel to an engine) by a valve
    b : to regulate and especially to reduce the speed of (as an engine) by such means

    Well, thank God they’re not limiting it.

    Comment by Tim Harrod — August 14, 2013 @ 9:20 pm
  7. Two things about Carbonite (or similar services):

    One: How can they guarantee the security of my data? Is the backup encrypted? Their advertising never mentions it.

    Two: My total system storage capacity is around 10 Terabytes, about half of which is used for actual storage (including my own backups). How many years would it take to put three terabytes on Carbonite?

    Thanks, but it now costs less than $100 for a 2TB drive. That’s better than paying month after month for off-site unsecured storage that I’d never be able to fill.

    Comment by E.A. Blair — August 19, 2013 @ 10:16 am
  8. Carbonite and probably all or most other consumer-level online backup services have outrageous Terms of Service that loudly disclaim responsibility to provide the service they profess to offer. For example, here is a snippet of the Carbonite ToS from (I changed the following to all lower-case for ease of reading; the original is in all caps:

    “the services and third-party components are provided “as is,” “where is,” “as available,” “with all faults” and, to the fullest extent permitted by law, without warranty of any kind. carbonite disclaims all warranties with respect to the services and third-party components, including, but not limited to, the implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, non-infringement and title, and any warranties regarding quiet enjoyment, reliability, timeliness and performance of the services. carbonite does not warrant that the services will meet your requirements, or that the operation of the services will be uninterrupted or error-free, or that defects in the services will be corrected, or that encryption algorithms, associated keys and other security measures will be secure or effective.”

    The whole purpose of these cloud backup services is to provide a level of secure disaster recovery for you. Yet in their Terms, they simply disclaim everything. I would much rather pay more for such a service, and have its Terms state that they will make reasonable efforts to provide reliable service substantially as advertised. Would that be asking too much?

    Comment by Alan — August 21, 2013 @ 6:29 am

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