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What to do when you run out of data

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Depending on your telco and phone plan, a few things can happen if you run out of mobile data — including excess usage fees or slowed speeds. 

If running out of data is a regular occurrence, you’re probably looking for a solution. Let’s take a look at what to do when you run out of data, and how to avoid it. 

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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).

Depending on how you use your phone, (e.g. for video streaming and playing games), and how much data you have on your plan, you could find yourself going over your included data allowance. 

This may not just be through actively using your phone. There may be apps that use data running in the background, your phone could automatically be downloading app or software updates, or you may not be connected to WiFi and therefore use mobile data unintentionally. All of these factors can drive up your data use unexpectedly.

What happens when I run out of mobile data?

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

Some providers will charge you for extra data, while others will simply cut your data access until your plan resets. 

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 keep using data but at a capped speed. 

Both Telstra and Optus offer this unlimited data at capped speeds of 1.5Mbps (megabits per second), while Vodafone offers unlimited capped speeds of 2Mbps.

What to do when you run out of data: prepaid vs postpaid plans

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) 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 gigabyte).

How do I know if I’m low on data?

When you’ve used up a certain amount of 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 to do if you run out of data every month

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 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. 

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 a bigger data allowance. This could be as simple as moving up to a higher data plan from your current provider, or shopping around and comparing a range of telcos.

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.

What to do when you run out of data on a budget

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?

There are a few possible culprits if you’re suddenly chewing through data and haven’t changed your usage habits.

  • 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 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. 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.
  • You have apps downloading in the background: Some apps download content in the background. You can 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 uses more mobile data than 4G because it’s able to download information quicker, making it easier to chew through gigabytes. If you have easy access to 5G networks and are using it frequently, you might need to monitor this.

Is there an easy way to find out what’s using my data?

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.

Emma Bradstock
Telco Specialist
Emma Bradstock has been an authority on consumer phone, internet, technology and streaming markets in Australia for over 5 years. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communications and Media from Macquarie University and has over a decade of professional writing experience in print and digital media.

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