Do You Really Need Unlimited Data?

by Brandon Ackroyd - , Last Updated on May 15, 2015, Buying Guides

Choosing a mobile phone plan can be tough, and one area that is confusing for many people is that data allowance. Whilst most mobile operators these days offer huge minute and text limits, data limits are much more variable. At home we’re all used to having great internet access that for the most part is unlimited, but is it worth shelling out for that unlimited mobile data plan? We’re taking a look at some of the pros and cons of an unlimited data plan so you can see if you really need it, and the issue might be a little more complicated than you think…

Pro: No Unexpected Charges

The primary reason that most people opt for unlimited data when available and affordable is that it eliminates the chances of you getting an unexpected phone bill. Why? Because when you have a data limit you need to stick to that limit. If you don’t, you’ll be paying extra costs for using extra data, and those fees are charged at premium rates (unlike the probably discounted rate you pay with your phone plan). Don’t want to worry about breaking a limit? Then unlimited data is the way to be hassle free.

Con: It’s Probably Not Unlimited

That being said, even if you do have an unlimited data plan the chances are that it isn’t really unlimited anyway. Okay, you won’t have to pay extra fees, but you also can’t just use all the data you want. Why is that? Because nearly every data contract will contain a fair usage policy. That will allow your operator to slow down (and in some cases even cut off) your mobile data if they feel that you’re using too much. You might notice this if you spend all evening on your mobile, after a few hours you’ll probably find that your speeds slow down. That’s that fair usage policy kicking in. There are some operators that offer “truly unlimited” plans (Three being the most notable), but you might find that you’re paying for unlimited data that really isn’t unlimited at all.

Con: It Might Not Be Possible Anyway

Another problem with unlimited data is that more and more operators are steering clear of it. O2, for example, was one of the first UK operators to offer an unlimited mobile data contract, but nowadays you won’t be able to opt for unlimited- the maximum data limit with O2 at the moment is 20 GB. EE gives you a max of 50 GB, Tesco Mobile a limit of 8 GB, Vodafone a max of 20 GB. In fact, Three is the only mainstream carrier that will give you unlimited data right now. Okay, those maximum limits with other operators are pretty high, but if you’re thinking about unlimited data then you might just find that it’s not an option.

Why are the industry turning away from unlimited data? For quite simple reasons. Mobile data channels get slower when they get busy. That means that if all of us have unlimited data contracts and can use mobile data whenever and wherever we want, we all begin to experience traffic jams, or slow data speeds. It’s not really in anyone’s interests to have this happen, and operators are realising that the best way to stop everyone’s data speeds from slowing down (at least until more infrastructure can be built to support it or until better technology such as 4G expands) is to limit everyone’s contract. Not being offered unlimited data might be an inconvenience, but it’s in the greater good.

Pro: You Can Get Decent Savings (in certain circumstances)

We’re going to start out here by saying that in all likelihood you don’t use anywhere near as much data as you think you do. For a normal smartphone user a data limit of around 4 GB or so will more than get you through the month, no matter how much surfing, Skyping, or emailing you do. However, there are a couple of circumstances in which an unlimited data plan could benefit you and lead to savings.

One of these is streaming. If you frequently stream video, be that the BBC iPlayer, movies or TV, on your mobile, then yes, you’re going to be using a ton of data. The same goes for music streaming services, such as Pandora or Spotify. If you keep that music switched on all day every day, then unlimited data could be a good idea for you. The other reason is if you use mobile tethering. Tethering is using your phone to give your computer (or tablet) an internet connection. Some operators allow this and some don’t. Given that you’re likely to use a lot more data if you’re on your computer, an unlimited mobile data plan would probably benefit you.

This is a bit of a mixed pro, since it’s pretty much only these two circumstances that really require unlimited data. For the most part, regular phone users shouldn’t need to pay unlimited prices, since they’ll be more than satisfied with a cheaper, limited plan.

Unlimited Data: The Bottom Line

What all of this comes down to is that unlimited data isn’t really a necessity. Most of us aren’t going to use anywhere near enough data to warrant paying the extra costs. On top of that, most mobile operators these days are forgoing unlimited data plans anyway, in the interests of keeping data speeds as high as they can. Do you need unlimited data? The answer really depends on how you’re planning to use your phone, but our prediction is no, you really don’t.

Mobile data plans are expensive enough as it is. And the chances are that not only do you not need unlimited data, but you also don’t need anywhere close to the maximum data limit offered by your operator. Not convinced? Most smart phones have data counters on them hidden in the settings menu. Set that counter to zero and then use your phone normally for a month and see the results. You might find yourself downgrading to a cheaper phone plan with a lower data limit…

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