Excess Data Charges Explained

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We’ve all heard the horror stories about shock phone bills, with excess data charges often the culprit. At a time when many of us stream music and video from our mobile phones, blowing out your data limit is quite easily done. If you don’t pay attention, those excess data charges can quickly add up. So how much should you expect to pay for going over your data cap, and which providers charge the most? If you’re regularly going over your data cap, read on to find out what you’ll be slugged and how you can stop it.

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How much do phone providers charge for excess data?

Excess data charges apply to postpaid plans – both SIM only and bundled phone plans (including the handset) – and the most common rate charged by providers is $10 per gigabyte. However, some providers might charge more or charge in blocks of MB rather than GB. You’ll also need to look out for any cap that might be on how much you can add on for your excess data as the teclo might restrict your data access until the next billing period. The following table is a snapshot of how some of Australia’s telcos charge for excess data.

Provider Additional data blocks Excess data cost
Telstra 1GB $10
Optus 1GB $10
Vodafone 1GB $10
TeleChoice 1GB $10
iiNet Mobile 1GB $10
Exetel 1GB $10
Dodo Mobile 1GB $10
Southern Phone 1GB $10
Moose Mobile 1MB 1.5c
Hive Mobile 1MB 1.5c

Source: Respective provider websites March 2019. Costs based on 1,000 MB per GB. Note that some providers might define 1 GB as 1,024 MB.

As you can see, the going rate tends to be $10 a gigabyte and this is usually automatically added on if you exceed your data. Certainly this is a common factor with the big providers, but smaller providers may charge for excess data differently. Furthermore, the above comparison is for postpaid plans only — prepaid plans usually cap data unless you manually recharge, but some may still inadvertently charge for data via credit remaining. It’s also important to consider that there might be minimum data amounts that you’re charged for and that these excess data charges are billed in blocks rather than as a pay-as-you-go rate.

While most of the telcos seem to stick to the standard $10/GB amount, if you’re looking into a new plan or telco, you should check this information for yourself to ensure you know how they will charge for excess data. Southern Phone, for instance, charges $10 per 1GB, however once you’ve reached 3GB (which will be $30 in excess charges), you’ll be charged 5c per MB, with a minimum charge of 25c (5MB). After this, your usage might be restricted.

In cases like Southern Phone and other providers who might have maximum data charges, it can become a bit complicated and even expensive if you keep going over your data. If you do find you’re going over your data allowance regularly, you might be better off signing up for a plan with more data, as it could save you a bit of money.

Not all telcos will charge for excess data. Providers such as Woolworths Mobile, will restrict your use once you go over your data inclusion, unless you add on a data pack. The advantage of a data add-on is that you’re in control over how much you’re willing to spend and how much extra data you think you’ll need, depending, of course, on what the telco has to offer you.

While some smaller providers may offer a cheaper plan, they may charge more for excess data usage. In any case, $10 per gigabyte doesn’t sound like much, but having it repeatedly added onto your bill can certainly wear thin. A past Canstar Blue survey found that one in five postpaid plan customers (21%) often exceed their data limit.

Megabytes vs gigabytes

When you’re comparing excess data charges, it’s important to understand the difference between the two units data is measured in – megabytes (MB) and gigabytes (GB). You’ll usually see MBs referenced as the amount of data in low-cost mobile plans, with 500MB an allowance in plans costing under $20 per month. Once your plan heads over $25 or so, you’ll be dealing in GBs. Mobile carriers generally define a gigabyte as 1,024 megabytes.

It’s crucial you know this because some service providers charge for excess data by the megabyte rather than by the gigabyte, and as you can see from the table above, the carriers with the highest potential fees for just 1GB of extra data charge by the megabyte. So when you’re reading the details of your plan, make sure you know exactly what you’re paying for, because at 5 cents per MB, the costs will quickly add up. To put that into context, a standard five-minute YouTube video will use up the best part of 30MBs of data, costing you about $1.50 in excess charges just to watch a short video.

Paying by the megabyte does have its benefits if you only go a few MBs over your standard data cap, as you won’t be automatically slugged a $10 fee. However, you do run the risk of serious bill shock if you get carried away with your data usage after reaching your limit.

There are some things you can do to avoid excess data charges, however, so it’s not all doom and gloom.

How can I avoid excess data charges?

There are a few relatively easy things you can do to at least monitor or cut back on your data usage. No doubt you’ve heard of some of them before, but here’s a refresher:

  • Prepaid plans don’t allow for excess data charges – once your credit is finished, you’ll have to purchase more or wait until your plan recharges.
  • Find a bigger phone plan – if you’re blowing out your data cap, you probably need a plan with more data to start with. Paying for a plan with more data will likely work out cheaper than all those excess data charges.
  • Set up data notifications and monitoring – telcos are required to message you when you’ve used all your data, but if you don’t get that message for a couple of days – or even a couple of hours – the damage may already be done.

Go prepaid

Prepaid plans have changed a lot in more recent years as providers roll out increasingly good-value phone plans with this payment method. In fact, many prepaid providers are rivalling the postpaid counterparts when it comes to huge data offerings. The way these plans work is fairly simple — once your credit runs out, that’s it, unless you manually recharge. Though, providers may still charge for excess data if you have any extra credit or have elected to ‘auto top up’.

There are plenty of prepaid providers out there, such as Boost Mobile, Amaysim, OVO Mobile and Catch Connect. You can also pick up prepaid plans from Telstra, Vodafone and Optus. Some of these telcos offer entertainment extras on these plans, so it’s worth comparing the different providers to see what they have on offer.

Choose a bigger phone plan

This might be a much harder decision to make as choosing a bigger phone plan may not seem ideal but it could work out cheaper than continually adding on data packs for $10 or more a pop. Think about how much those excess data charges are costing you and see what better value you could get with another plan. Quite often you might find that a few extra dollars a month could almost double your current data inclusion, so those few extra dollars a month could save you more down the track.

Telcos are increasingly expanding the data inclusions on plans, with some providers offering 10GB of data for under $30. Some of the cheapest providers to offer 10GB include Moose Mobile, TeleChoice, Hive Mobile and Exetel. Considering this, moving to a bigger phone plan may be more ideal, but it’s important to consider just how much extra you’ll need and then compare to see which telco has the right offering for you.

Limit app data use and auto-play videos

One of the biggest data drainers can be the default options on Facebook and Instagram to auto-play videos. Simply scrolling through can chew up megabytes and gigabytes over the course of a month. You can disable this on Facebook but not entirely on Instagram. Of course streaming of any video, including Netflix and Stan, will also chew through your data quickly. While we can’t tell you to stop your latest Netflix binge, you can do the following:

  • Turn off auto app updates and disable background use
  • Disable email ‘push’ notifications, which auto-load pictures, videos and attachments
  • Turn off location services in apps that don’t actually need it

In the smartphone world, apps can be the biggest data suckers on your smartphone. This can be easily rectified in your phone’s settings.

It might also be worth looking into phone plans that include data-free streaming of entertainment extras. Telstra offers data-free streaming of sports (including the NRL and AFL) as well as Apple Music. Optus currently offers data-free streaming of Optus Sport (which includes the English Premier League), music streaming (including Spotify and Google Play) and Mobile TV streaming (including Netflix and Stan) — however some of these extras may need to be added on for an additional monthly fee. Vodafone offers similar data-free streaming of music, social media, video and chat, however these are optional extras to add on for an extra monthly charge. These entertainment extras can often come with a bigger price tag than what you’re currently paying, so you’ll really need to do your research to find which plan will suit your needs best.

Set Up Data Notifications

Chances are you get SMS notifications about your data usage, but do you actually pay attention to them? Most providers send notifications at 50%, 85% and 100% of your data usage, but these may be delayed or not incremental enough. Many Android-based smartphones allow data monitoring and the ability to create data caps that can be delivered in real time, rather than waiting for the plan provider to send a text.

Should I be worried about excess data charges?

Being billed for excess data can be stressful. Though there are some very easy fixes to help reign in that amount of data. Looking at your apps’ data usage is a major one, while those most serious about cutting back can limit themselves by switching to a prepaid plan. Excess data charges can easily blow out your monthly budget, so take the time to figure out how much data you really need and pick a plan accordingly.

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