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What to do when you run out of mobile data

Most of us have been there — receiving that ominous notification that you’ve almost used up your data allowance. Then comes the panic as you try to ration out the last gigabyte or so until your plan resets.

Depending on your telco and your plan, a few things can happen if you run out of mobile data. If this is a regular occurrence for you, you might also need to look into a new phone plan. Let’s take a look at what happens (and what you can do!) if you run out of mobile data.

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The following table shows a selection of sponsored SIM Only plans on Canstar Blue’s database with links to referral partners.

How can you run out of mobile data?

In Australia, most phone plans come with a set amount of mobile data, with the exception of no-data, pay as you go and ‘unlimited’ data phone plans.

Because of this, when you use mobile data, you do run the risk of going over your data allowance. Depending on what kind of activities you do on your phone, such as video streaming and playing games — and how much data you have on your plan  — you could find yourself going over your data allowance.

There may also be apps that use data while running in the background, or you may not be connected to WiFi and therefore using mobile data most of the time. Even if you’re being careful with your data usage, there may be times when you use more than you intend to.

What happens when I run out of mobile data?

What happens when you run out of mobile data depends on what type of phone plan you have, your provider and your plan contract.

Some providers will charge you for extra data, while others will simply cut your data access until your plan resets. You may also be able to add on a data pack while you wait for your plan to reset.

In the case of the big three telcos — Telstra, Optus and Vodafone — there are no excess data charges on postpaid phone plans. Instead, once you’ve used up your data inclusions, you can then keep using data but at a capped speed. Both Telstra and Optus offer this unlimited data at capped speeds of 1.5Mbps, while Vodafone offers unlimited capped speeds of 2Mbps, 10Mbps and 25Mbps, depending on the plan.

The type of plan you’re on — prepaid or postpaid — will also determine what happens when you run out of mobile data.

Prepaid: If your data runs out before your expiry period, you can either recharge your plan, or you may be able to purchase a data pack add-on (depending on your provider) for extra data without recharging your plan early.

Postpaid: Depending on the provider, you might lose your data access and need to purchase a data pack add-on (if applicable), or wait for your next billing period for your plan to reset. Some telcos could charge you excess data fees by default (usually $10 per 1GB) and you might not be able to control this. If you don’t want to be charged excess data fees, you might want to turn off mobile data on your phone — you can typically switch mobile data on or off in your device’s settings.

When you’ve used up a certain amount of mobile data, your provider is required to send you a notification that you have used a specific amount of your data allowance, which is typically done via SMS. These notifications may be sent around the 50%, 85% and 100% usage amounts, but keep in mind that there may be a delay between hitting these usage percentages and a notification being sent. You also might need to keep an eye on your data usage via your account or the telco’s app (if available).

What should I do if I keep running out of mobile data?

If you frequently go over your mobile data, you might want to consider whether your current phone plan has enough data for your needs, and therefore if you should switch to a new phone plan.

Before switching to a plan with more data, consider how you use your phone, and work out how much data you’ll need. For example, if you stream a lot of videos using mobile data, this will use up a considerable amount of data, about 1GB per one hour of streaming.

Once you have a clearer idea of how much data you need on your phone plan, evaluate whether your current plan matches this. If you don’t have enough data, you might need to upgrade your phone plan to one with more data. That could be as simple as moving up to a higher data plan from your current provider, or shopping around to find the best mobile data deal for your money.

If you’d like to switch to a higher data phone plan, the following table includes a selection of postpaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database with a minimum of 40GB of data, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our mobile phone plan comparison tool to see a wide range of plans from other providers. This table includes products with links to referral partners.

If you have a tight budget and can’t switch to a higher data plan, you might need to reduce and manage your data usage to ensure you’re not going over your data allowance. This could include using WiFi whenever possible, limiting data-intensive activities when you rely on mobile data, and even downloading videos or music to your device when you’re connected to WiFi to avoid streaming with mobile data.

Why is my phone using so much data all of a sudden?

If you’ve noticed that suddenly you’re using more mobile data that you usually do — and you’re certainly not doing any or many activities that use a lot of data — there might be a few reasons why you’re going through a lot more gigabytes than normal.

  • You’re using mobile data instead of WiFi: You may have turned WiFi off and are therefore using mobile data for all your online activity. Check to see WiFi is turned on and use your home WiFi as much as possible.
  • You’re running apps in the background that use a lot of data: Try closing apps you’re not currently using, check your settings and maybe turn off background app refresh.
  • You’re using apps that chew through a lot of data: Games, social media and video streaming apps use a lot of data. If you’ve just started playing a new game, or perhaps you’ve signed up to a social media app like TikTok, these sorts of activities chew through a lot of data. Check your settings, see if the app will allow you to limit data usage, turn off auto-play on videos in social media apps and reduce the quality of videos/games if possible.
  • Make sure no apps are downloading anything in the background: Some apps, especially video and music streaming apps, might be downloading content in the background. You can easily prevent this by switching to the setting that limits song/video downloads to when you’re connected to WiFi only.
  • You have notifications switched on: If you allow notifications for a wide range of apps, those notifications can also be using up mobile data. Turn off notifications for apps that you don’t need, and make sure you close apps properly when you’re not using them.
  • You’re using 5G: 5G does use a little more mobile data than 4G because it is able to download more information than 4G, so it’s easier to chew through gigabytes. If you have easy access to 5G networks and are using it frequently, you might need to monitor this.

If you’re still unsure about what is using up your mobile data, most telcos offer an app that allows you to monitor your phone’s data usage and access your account. In your usage tracker, you might be able to see a breakdown of what activity is using your data the most. Once you see what is causing this, you have a better chance at finding a solution and limiting your usage.

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