You can easily get unlimited calls and texts on your phone plan, but truly unlimited data is tough to come by. Here are your options if you loathe excess data bills.
These days, it's trivially 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
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. 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.
The Optus, Telstra and Vodafone approaches to unlimited data plans do offer unlimited data, but not at full network speed all the time. The Optus unleashed plans specifically shape video streaming data and any tethered use to just 1.5Mbps down, way below the top speed its 4G network is capable of. Both Vodafone and Telstra offer data quotas at full speed that you can use as you like, after which you're limited to that same 1.5Mbps download speed.
All these are unlimited data plans, but they're not "unlimited" in every sense of the word. You're also talking plans that are available as SIM-only offerings, so you will need a handset to put them in. Telstra specifically prohibits using its unlimited data SIMs in anything but a smartphone. Vodafone is more open, allowing usage in any compatible 4G LTE device, including tablets and hotspots.
TPG's approach for its trial is a little different again, offering just 1GB of full-speed data each day, and then unlimited access capped at 1Mbps for the rest of the day. During its trial period, it will offer 6 months of free access to its trial consumers, and charge just $9.99 for the service as it seeks to gain new customers.
As a trial, however, not everyone will have access. TPG's coverage area is substantially smaller than that of its competitors, and it's only opening it up to selected customers on a "trial" basis, leaving it open as to whether it will continue with that pricing and those data inclusions and speed caps once it opens up offers to all Australians.Back to top
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, streaming sports or streaming 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 betterBack 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.
That's going to tether you to your home or business, however, 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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