Unlimited calls and texts are the norm these days, but truly unlimited data is tough to come by. Here are your options if you hate excess data bills.
Unlimited mobile data: Is it here?
Telstra announced an overhaul of their plans on 24 July 2018 as well as what seems to be the first truly unlimited mobile data plan available on the market – although that plan comes at a cost of $199 per month. For those who can't afford $199 per month, they also have an unlimited data but speed-capped option called "Peace of Mind Data". For $10 extra per month on certain contract and BYO phone plans, users can enjoy unlimited data – but after you reach your data allowance, speeds are slowed to 1.5Mbps. Check out the news piece here or our analysis below.
These days, it's quite easy to score a mobile phone plan that includes unlimited calls and texts without having to spend any great sum. If you regularly need to call overseas, it's even pretty easy to score a plan with unlimited calls to select international locations.
What about unlimited data, though? You have options that offer near-unlimited data, but you've got to be aware of the catches with each approach.
"Unlimited" plans with speed limits available
Up until quite recently, you couldn't score an unlimited data mobile plan anywhere in Australia. Most carriers stated that they weren't interested in providing one, citing the heavy load it would introduce on limited mobile network capacity.
Optus changed the story early in 2018 by soft-launching its "unleashed" plans, which offer unlimited data for $60 per month on a single SIM, with unlimited standard national calls and texts.
The offer from Optus was only open to their "eligible" customers on a trial basis, but in early May, Optus rivals Telstra and Vodafone both announced similar "unlimited" plans on a 12-month SIM basis. Telstra has now followed that up with what it calls "Peace of Mind" plans that offer "unlimited" data once your quota is exhausted. They're available on both SIM-only contract and with bundled handsets, and we've examined them in depth here.
At the same time, Telstra also announced a $199 "Ultimate" plan that actually does offer unlimited data as long as you're happy paying $199 per month for it. For most folks, that'll be outside their acceptable price range.
TPG followed suit announcing plans for an unlimited data plan trial in the second half of 2018 for invited customers.
So, problem solved, right?
Not so fast. Literally.
Unlimited streaming carriers
Streaming entertainment, especially video, is extremely data intensive. It's often what trips up mobile users when it comes to excess charges. The good news here is that there are multiple providers that offer "data free" streaming of specific content, whether it's Netflix, sports or music.
The benefit with these plans is that your most intensive activities won't count against your data cap, although many do limit the visual quality or screen size of what you can stream without incurring data charges. They're not truly "unlimited" plans, either, but they may fit your needs a little better.
You also have the option if you're a Vodafone customer to sign up to its "Vodafone Pass" option. Pricing varies as to your usage, with options for chat, social, music and video streaming, but there are some significant limitations to the Vodafone Pass system that are worth keeping in mind. We've outlined everything you need to know about Vodafone Pass here.
"Mobile TV Streaming" as well as a music streaming option have been available on select Optus plans for some time now. For a fee, new or existing Optus customers can activate the unmetered service on their accounts, allowing data-free streaming on certain apps and platforms. Fetch, Stan, Netflix, ABC iview and more are available (subscriptions not included) – but be wary of Optus's usage terms and conditions. Check out our Optus provider page here for a breakdown of their plans.Back to top
High data mobile data plans
If you're not fussed about mobility, an NBN plan with more than 1TB (or preferably unlimited data) would still be your best overall bet, especially with the prevalence of Wi-Fi.
However, that's going to tether you to your home or business when what you want is mobility. What that means for now, unless a slowed-down-at-times unlimited plan makes sense for you, is that your best bet is to latch onto a plan with a large data allowance.
To help, we've compared mobile plans with unlimited talk and text and more than 20GB per month in the table below:
Why is data limited anyway?
The issue for data is largely an economic one. When mobile phones were a relatively new concept and the sunk costs of the networks designed to support them were massive, something as simple as a phone call could cost you serious money.
Decades later, those costs have been captured, and intense market pressure from the big three carrier networks and the numerous Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) has meant that the cost of a national mobile call has tumbled. Today, we're at the point where unlimited call plans have more or less become the norm. Text costs for telcos were always marginal, and for a long while were a cash cow for providers, so making them unlimited was pretty much inevitable.
While we may see very small improvements in voice on new network technologies, the focus and spend is on improving data speeds, and that costs money to implement. Anything that costs a business money flows down to the customers unless that business actively wants to go bankrupt and, as such, for as long as data networks continue to improve, it’s likely we’ll see charges for data.
The good news here is that competition, combined with an increasing appetite for mobile data, has put a lot of downwards pressure on outright data pricing. All of the big network providers and many MVNOs now adhere to a $10/GB pricing structure for contract mobile excess usage, which is a huge drop in real terms from years gone past.Back to top
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