Why Does Per-MB Charging Matter?

Vodafone backflipped on its plans to introduce per-MB charging on its prepaid plans yesterday. Given many plans offer gigabytes of data, why does this actually matter?

The decision for Vodafone to flip back to per-KB charging on its plans is quite a welcome one, but not for the reasons you may be thinking. There's a widespread belief that per-unit charging — whatever the unit of measurement is — means that your account gets charged that unit for every online activity. Send ten emails from your phone on a per-MB plan, and it'd cost you 10MB and so on. This isn't generally so, but there's still a problem with charging at a per-MB level.

Evan Smith outlines the exact nature of the problem over on his blog. What you have to be careful of is your data session terminating; at that time, your telco will assess how much actual data you've used, and then round it up to the per-unit price. So if you've only used 0.5MB, it will be charged as a full 1MB. Most phones should try to keep a data connection active for push services such as email and social networking, even if they're not using much data.

Where this gets tricky is that it's very easy to drop on and off networks without realising it; Smith's example is of travelling on a train through Sydney's train network, picking up a connection at each station even if you're not actually getting anything done, and racking up the megabyte charges as you go. Charging at a per-Kb rate doesn't stop this issue, but it makes it significantly less of a problem for customers, as you're more likely to get the actual data you've paid for.

Data Sessions On Your Mobile [Evan Smith]

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    Based on what I've read online, some of the more dodgy carriers (i.e. Optus) define a session as ending after about 45 seconds of idle time (i.e. no data transmission/reception), even if a data session is still active. My experience would tend to confirm this. Sessions may also be terminated for other reasons too (as mentioned in the linked blog post), just to make the experience even more expensive.

    OTOH, they don't seem to meter connections to Google's Android push tentacle. Presumably this is so they don't appear to be completely dodgy.

    Optus have pretty much always block charged. In 2006 (when I got my first 3G phone), they were charging at $1.32/60kB + 35ยข flagfall. (That's $22.88/MB, including flagfall.)

    You also have to watch for apps like chrome that view every page load as a new session and you end up getting charged for a MB per page.

    Any chance you could revisit this issue. I've recently been looking closer into what I use and what I'm charged and finding a big disparity, like 60% of my bill was all I actually downloaded on a per MB plan. Would love to know who has the best mobile broadband deal when you take into consideration the possible large difference when you are charged KB vs MB.

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