How Much Mobile Data Do You Really Need In A Month?

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Phone plan allowances have skyrocketed over recent years, to the point where we've now got plans with so-called "unlimited" data. The question, is do you need one of these plans? And what does "unlimited" actually mean?

As you might have guessed by the scare quotes, "unlimited" data isn't quite free from limits. Telstra and Vodafone both offer unlimited mobile plans, but they have the same catch: your plan still has a fixed data allowance, but you'll be able to keep using your service if you burn through your limit. You won't get charged excess fees, but your speeds will be capped to 1.5Mbps.

That's a far cry from 4G speeds - which typically start at somewhere between 20Mbps and 50Mbps in metro areas - but should still be just enough to stream in standard definition, sing along to Spotify, and scroll through social media. The experience will be a lot slower than you're used to, but it’s a lot better than paying $10 per gigabyte in excess usage fees.

Average mobile data usage per month

Unlimited data could be complete overkill, however. According to the June 2018 ABS Internet Activity Survey, the average Australian was only using 9GB of data per month. This was the final Internet Activity Survey released, but the trend suggested roughly a 20% increase in data use every six months.

If we assume this has continued, that would mean the average Australian is now using around 15GB per month. That's nowhere near "unlimited" let alone the massive 100GB plans we're seeing on offer.

So is unlimited data worth it? If your data usage is smack bang on average, probably not. It's best to get a plan that matches your needs. Even if you're a heavy user, the real value of unlimited plans isn't really extra data, it's the peace of mind that you won't get charged for going over your allowance.

With that in mind, here's a look at a few SIM-only plans with at least 15GB:

In terms of data for dollar, the best deal here comes from Circles.Life. $18 per month gets you 20GB if you sign-up before February 28 with the promo code "6MONTHS". As the promo code might suggest, this discount only lasts for your first six months with Circles, after which you'll pay $28 per month. The plan is contract-free however, so you can leave at any time.

Moose Mobile also has a solid deal going right now. $19.80 per month gets you 15GB for your first 12 months with Moose, after which your allowance drops to 5GB. However, as with the Circles deal, the plan is contract-free so you can ditch it whenever.

It is of course important to check your own personal data usage. My parents only use around 2GB per month, while I've easily smashed through around 30GB so far binging Parks & Recreations at the gym. Just because the average Australian data usage is around 15GB doesn't mean a 15GB plan is necessarily right for you.

If you think you need more data, here are a couple of plans with at least 30GB:

Circles stacks up here well once again thanks to a different promo where $28 per month gets you 40GB if you sign-up using the promo code "40FOR28". Your plan allowance will drop to 20GB after your first 12 months are up, but the plan is contract-free. This offer runs until February 28.

MATE is also worth considering, especially if you're happy changing NBN provider too. $35 per month gets you 30GB, which is already excellent value for the Telstra network, but you'll save $10 off your total monthly bill if you bundle your mobile plan with a MATE NBN plan.

And if you're buying a postpaid plan through Telstra or Vodafone, you'll have "unlimited" data no matter what. You do still have to decide. Here's a look at a few SIM-only Telstra and Vodafone plans where you won't get charged extra fees if you go over your allowance:


Alex Choros is Managing Editor at WhistleOut, Australia's phone and internet comparison website.

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