Running out of data? Why it might be time to change mobile plans

Mobile plans change fast. If you haven’t shopped around in a year or more you might be surprised to find the telecommunications landscape is vastly different to when you last looked.

For example, there’s no longer any reason to worry about excess data bills (if you’re on one of the newer plans), and there are even unlimited data plans now starting from $35 a month. Many plans that cost over $30 a month now include free international calls too.

Remember those horror stories in the ’90s and the ’00s about people receiving bills with hundreds of dollars in excess data charges? Not any more.Credit:Moment RF

Plans with full 5G network access now start from about $40 a month, and there’s no longer any real benefit to being on a 12- or 24-month contract unless you’re buying a phone. As for operators, there are still only three networks, but there are around 26 different providers.

But by far the most significant change to mobile plans in the past decade or so has been the growth in inclusions.

About five years ago, the best mid-range plans offered 10GB of data a month for $40. Now I get 32GB for $23 and my new plan also includes international calls to 15 countries.

As data becomes cheaper for providers, they throw more and more into each plan. So if your plan is a few years old, it’s probably way behind in terms of value.

Some plans now include as much as 500GB a month, which according to my calculations, would allow you to watch Stranger Things in high definition on your phone for 16 hours a day for an entire month and still have data left over.

Vodafone/TPG even offers two types of unlimited data plans – one has top speeds of up to 30GB a month, then throttled speeds for all other data, while the other via their subsidiary Felix Mobile has unlimited data capped at speeds of 20Mbps.

Remember those horror stories in the ’90s and the ’00s about people receiving bills with hundreds of dollars in excess data charges? As recently as 2008, the ACCC warned with the emergence of new smartphone technology, the regulator was “particularly concerned that consumers may be misled if they are not made sufficiently aware that their data allocations can be exceeded – at significant cost.”

You hardly ever hear those stories now. Providers must now warn you if your data is running out. But many providers these days don’t charge for excess data, anyhow. Telstra and Optus, for example, simply slow your speeds to 1.5Mbps once you hit your data cap for the month.

About a dozen providers now also offer “data banking” – also known as “data rollover” – including amaysim, Tangerine, Aldi Mobile, Coles Mobile, Woolworths Mobile, Exetel, Lebara, Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and more.

What it means is that your unused data doesn’t expire at the end of the month – it rolls over and piles up. Sometimes the bank is unlimited, sometimes it’s capped at 200GB or 500GB. But either way, it creates a buffer so you no longer need to worry about your summer road-trip busting your monthly data cap (I recently checked and I’d stockpiled over 600GB!).

There are some innovative offers out there too: Woolies offers mobile customers 10 per cent off their first grocery shop each month, which can cover the cost of your mobile plan if you have a growing family. Belong and Felix are carbon-neutral (the latter plants a tree each month for every customer).

This is one of the easiest bills to switch because you can take your number with you. So cash in if you haven’t done so for a while. The best place to start, in my opinion, is Australia’s biggest telco comparison site whistleout.com.au.

But wherever you start, if you haven’t done it in a while, you might be surprised by how much things have changed.

  • Advice given in this article is general in nature and is not intended to influence readers’ decisions about investing or financial products. They should always seek their own professional advice that takes into account their own personal circumstances before making any financial decisions.

Joel Gibson is the author of KILL BILLS! The 9 Insider Tricks you Need to Win the War on Household Bills. Catch his money-saving segments on Nine Radio, TODAY & Twitter @joelgibson.

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