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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 is very easy to get a mobile phone plan with unlimited local calling and texting provisions for around $30. It’s not even terribly hard to get a mobile phone plan that offers unlimited international calls to selected locations.

If you want a plan with unlimited data usage, however, you’re plumb out of luck. There’s no such thing in the Australian telco market, and it’s highly unlikely that there ever will be. 2015 saw the introduction of a number of high usage data plans, and you can now get plans with as much as 90GB per month if you're prepared to stick with 3G speeds. But it still pales next to fixed line broadband plans that offer data in the 1TB or unlimited ranges.

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Why can calls and texts be unlimited, but not data?

The issue for data is largely an economic one. When mobile phones were a relatively new thing 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 myriad of 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 marginal 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 while it’s not terribly likely we’ll see unlimited plans in Australia, what we have seen is 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, a larger and far more prevalent detail overlooked when considering "unlimited" US carriers is that many of them offer an "unlimited" plan with a serious speed brake inbuilt. Specifically, most of these plans offer a set quota of data at 4G data speeds (which in themselves can be a mishmash of different speed technologies as there’s no set "4G" standard).

When you exceed that usage, you’re then dropped to an effective 2G data speed, which will be noticeable for any kind of data intensive activity such as video or music streaming. You’re technically not limited in data usage, but, like fixed broadband plans that employ data shaping, the speed of the connection will significantly impact what you can do with the service.

US consumer law protections are also substantially different to those in Australia, where the use of the word "Unlimited" where limitations exist is something that the ACCC historically doesn't look kindly on.

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, such as streaming video or music onto your device as practically feasible.

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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8 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    TimApril 11, 2017

    Three.ie 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.

    • Staff
      JonathanAugust 4, 2017Staff

      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.

      Cheers,
      Jonathan

  2. 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,
      Jason

  3. 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.

      Cheers,
      May

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