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Why unlimited data mobile plans don’t exist in Australia (and what to do instead)

You can easily get unlimited calls and texts on your phone plan, but not unlimited data. Why is that?

It's trivially easy to score a mobile phone plan that includes unlimited calls and texts these days 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? To date, only one Australian provider has launched an "unlimited" data plan, but our use of quotes there is quite deliberate. Optus has what it calls its "unleashed" plans, which offer unlimited data for $60 per month on a single SIM, with unlimited standard national calls and texts.

So if Optus can do it, why can't everyone else? It's because while Optus is technically offering "unlimited" data usage, the fine print around speeds makes it a somewhat limited offer. Specifically for video streaming (undeniably a heavy usage factor for many people's mobile usage) you're limited to just 1.5Mbps down, good enough only for standard definition streaming at best. The plans also note that: "During congestion, heavy data users may be deprioritised and experience slower speeds".

Or in other words, you can get as much data as you like, but quite probably not at the speeds you might expect. For some users that might still be a good deal, although right now you can only get onto Optus' unlimited plans if you're already an Optus customer of some sort, so it's clearly in soft launch mode.

Is anyone else offering unlimited data?

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.

That's going to tether you to your home or business, however, when what you want is mobility. The good news here is that, presuming Optus isn't slapped down by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), which tends to take a dim view on mis-use of the word "unlimited", it's not likely that it will alone for long in offering plans with theoretically unlimited data.

Indeed, there's some speculation that when TPG finally does launch its own mobile network, unlimited data may well be its key selling point. However, it remains to be seen how happy Australian networks are to give you unfettered access to mobile data over time, especially with the quantity of cash being sunk into 5G networks right now.

What that means for now, unless Optus' slowed-down-at-times unlimited plan makes sense for you, your best bet is to latch onto a plan with a large data allowance.

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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 incredibly marginal, and for a long while were a real cash cow for providers, so making them unlimited was pretty much an inevitability.

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 charging 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 huge drop in real terms from years gone past.

But they’ve got unlimited data plans in the US!

Yes, they do... sort of. Part of the unlimited data plan story in the US lies with the substantially larger market there for mobile phones, and some significant competition between carriers.

However, the US model relies on the fact that there's little regulation around what "unlimited" means, and that means pretty much all the US plans have a 4G data quota, with speeds varying depending on how that carrier defines 4G. Use that up, and you're rather unceremoniously dumped down to 2G network speeds.

Here in Australia, we don't have 2G networks of any real value any more, and while Optus is engaging in speed shaping, it's still a distance away from being genuinely "unlimited" in every sense.

I want unlimited data now. What can I do?

Build your own mobile telecommunications network? That’s probably beyond your resources, however.

What you can do is opt for a high usage plan with more than 10GB of data to keep your truly mobile data needs sated and mix that with as much use of home, work or public Wi-Fi networks and preloading any data intensive content onto your device as practically feasible, such as streaming video or music.

It’s not quite the same thing as having genuinely "unlimited" mobile data, but it’s as close as you’re likely to get in the foreseeable future.

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10 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    GlenSeptember 24, 2017

    I note Amaysim seems t have dropped off the radar? As an Amaysim customer seeking a better deal am I missing something?
    I am after unlimited calls. An account billing per month and approx 15 Gb data per month? Help please
    Regards Glen

    • Staff
      RenchSeptember 26, 2017Staff

      Hi Glen,

      Thanks for your inquiry. Please note that we are not affiliated with any company we feature on our site and so we can only offer you general advice.

      You can also go to this page and make use of the search filter according to what you need in a mobile plan. You may adjust the features and it will show you a list of mobile plans that you can compare.


  2. Default Gravatar
    TimApril 11, 2017 unlimited data and no throttling. While calls and texts are limited depending on plan, everyone uses data to communicate.

    • Default Gravatar
      nickAugust 2, 2017

      Ok Sorry but the reaaoning given by the 3 telcos is a load of nonsense. A modern city like HK with a third the population of Australia ALWAYS has unlimited data and plenty of call time in all their plans. There is NO difficult decision to make or justifiable reason why the telcos here can t offer unlimited data. The ONLY reason is pure GREED. Comparing the situation to the very scattered and poorly serviced US network smacks of a cover up. Your writers can do better than that.

    • Default Gravatar
      JonathanAugust 4, 2017

      Hello Nick,

      Thank you for your inquiry.

      We appreciate your sharing on this matter. Indeed many Australians are looking forward for that day when we can use unlimited data on our mobile phone plans. Just to clarify some points though, it is not only US that uses “capping” on their unlimited offers. Many providers, including the ones in Australia, are doing that in compliance with Fair Usage Policy (FUP), that will ensure equal distribution of network resources to all customers.

      While no signs can be seen yet if Australian providers will give this, your options will be to use home/office wifi, use public wifi, if you’re a Telstra fixed broadband customer you can use Telstra Air, pre-load your content if you’re watching videos, or use mobile broadband device.

      Hope this helps.


  3. Default Gravatar
    StevenApril 7, 2017

    What about Vivid Wireless?
    They have an Unlimited Internet Plan for $89 per month.
    Vividwireless LTE internet service provides up to 10mbps download and 1 mbps upload.

    • Staff
      JasonApril 8, 2017Staff

      Hi Steven,

      Thank you for getting in touch.

      The technology of Vividwireless is purpose built for data rather than mobile phone services, which means they do not include call or text services. They would fall under the mobile broadband category instead.
      Please check out this link for the monthly plans of Vividwireless mobile broadband.

      Kind regards,

  4. Default Gravatar
    OptusNovember 20, 2016

    I’m on 2dollars a day plan with Optus pre-paid it’s unlimited everything for 2buks a day. The catch is if use ur credit it will charge 2 dollars but only 2dollars for that day. I don’t know if they still have this plan. Since I’ve had it for years now no doubt the best pre-paid plan Iv found all up 60 bucks a month but has unlimited internet. I use my hotspot all day and it only charges me 2 dollars. I don’t know Wat ur on about for not having unlimited in Australia

    • Default Gravatar
      MattieboyMarch 13, 2017

      Yes i am on the Optus $2 a day 3G ready plan. Had it for years and still loving it. I use it for personal hotspots and letting my friends go crazy on it. I use up to 30-50 gigs a month. Imagine the cost in comparison to today’s plans?

    • Staff
      MayNovember 30, 2016Staff

      Hi there,

      Thanks for your comment.

      Yes, as of this writing, Optus is still having the $2 Prepaid product with 4G Coverage, however, the data allowance included is only at 500MB (counted in 1KB increments) for use within Australia with 7-day expiry. Please note though that this offer and plan may change in the future.

      Most networks nowadays are generally not having unlimited data on their mobile data plans due to the huge number of mobile data users, which in turn could impair providers economically. Companies find that improving the data speed is costly to maintain. Although the data is not unlimited, most of these companies have dropped the outright data pricing and one example for that is the $2 Prepaid from Optus.


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