Ask LH: Why Do Mobile Data Packs Have An Expiry Date?

Ask LH: Why Do Mobile Data Packs Have An Expiry Date?

Dear LH, Why is it that mobile data packs (for mobile phone plans or use with tablets) have an expiry date? Data allowance won’t spoil in the fridge, so what gives? Some plans let you roll data from month to month, but the long-life ones don’t. Is this fair? Is it legal? Thanks, Data Deviate

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Dear DD,

At the end of the day, telcos are businesses that want to make as much money as possible. Limiting data packs to a set time period or billing cycle keeps the customer from stockpiling their unused data. Whether this is fair is debatable, but it’s certainly not illegal.

Companies can sell plans on whatever basis they like, provided they make those terms and conditions clear from the outset. This is covered under Part 23 of the Australian Telecommunications Act:

Content service providers that use a standard form of agreement (SFOA) are required to provide customers with concise summaries of the terms and conditions set out in the SFOA applying to their service. The summary must not exceed four pages in length. Customers must be given reasonable notice of adverse changes of the terms and conditions.

If you don’t like the terms of the plan, your only option is to seek a different carrier. With that said, data pack expiration dates are pretty uniform across the industry, so don’t get your hopes up. Your best bet is to switch to a plan with a decent built-in data allowance — head to our Planhacker section for an overview of different mobile contracts in Australia.

Alternatively, when it comes time to renew your contract, you can sometimes get your telecommunication provider to bolster your data allowance as an incentive to stick around. If you don’t require a new handset but want to stay on the same plan, ask if a data increase is possible. Telcos are extremely keen to retain customers, so it can’t hurt to ask.

You can find plenty of other data-boosting tips via our guide to stretching a meagre data allowance.

Cheers Lifehacker

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  • Prepaid calls expiring at the end of each month is a total con as well, it should be illegal.
    They should either have to refund your unused credit or allow it to roll over for a reasonable period of time (say 3 months).
    Charging you for something they don’t end up having to deliver is a real con, and I can’t believe they are legally allowed to do it.

    • I hate it too and go for the ones with the longest life. However, there is a reason…. If you got a data pack that had no expiry but were a user that only ever used a few bytes at a time this it would actually cost the Telco more to provide you with those bytes than they would make. You are not just buying the data, you are using (and so therefor a cost) the infrastructure – the Base stations, networking, billing systems etc etc…..

      It is annoying and I think the telco’s are a rip off as well – but unfortunately I do have to agree with that one 🙂

  • If they didn’t have an expiry date, nothing would stop you buying up terabytes of data, and then not pay anything else for 25+ years. That adds significantly to their costings. They have to continue to support you when you have questions, but you haven’t paid anything for years. The data fee, isn’t just for the data, it’s for the service.

    • “They have to continue to support you when you have questions, but you haven’t paid anything for years” – precisely – you have paid them, and the have the use of that money. That you are coming back later is something they will have to make a provision for, as they already do. If people buy more up front, they will use more anyway…

    • If you have already paid for the data though, what exactly would be the problem?

      • Without the data expiry, it also extends the company’s liability to an unknown period of time. Same reason why store gift cards have expiry dates. When the law in the US changed that gift cards had to have a 5 year expiry minimum period, a lot of small retailers stopped selling gift cards. Far too expensive and risky for them to sell cards with 5 year expiry rates. So imagine selling data that had no expiry date – some people might even hold onto it for 50+ years. It will kill off all small telephony companies. They can’t take the financial risk.

        And the price you pay isn’t just the price of the data. It’s to provide the service. The staff still have to be paid if you didn’t pay anything. They have to keep your account active, contact you. All of that costs money and is added to the cost of data packs that have expiry dates. if everyone bought terabytes of data, then no one bought data for years, where is the company’s income – how will they continue to provide a service and staff? There’s a reason 400gb a month is cheaper than 200gb a month for 2 months.

  • what sucks is if you don’t use the prepaid SIM for a period, say 3 months, then it expires and you have to ring up and have it reinstated, or after 6 months you have to buy a new one for $30.
    So you can’t have an empty prepaid SIM and recharge it when you want.

  • To be fair, you _could_ just seek a different plan that is more suitable, before looking at other carriers.

  • Is there such thing as multiple devices off the one pre-paid plan? eg. Phone, and portable hot-spot both draw down on data from same account, therefore don’t have to worry about data on one expiring and having to inefficiently top up multiple accounts all the time.

    • Business plans can do it, my workplace has a data pool that all the exec phones draw from. Can’t see why a hotspot couldn’t be added.

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