I'm looking to buy an iPhone 4S on contract, but have no idea which network or tariff I should choose. This will be my first smartphone - actually the first mobile I've owned with internet - so how am I supposed to know how much "data" I will need? I don't even know what data means!
Should I play it safe by getting unlimited data? If so, what is the best unlimited plan?
Katy O'Hara, via email on 21 February, 2012
Thanks for your email. You're not the only one confused by mobile price plans. As time goes on they seem to be getting more and more complex. But that's why Mobilechoices.co.uk is here, to help you find the best deal for your needs and hopefully save you some money.
One of the easiest ways to avoid spending too much on your mobile contract is to make sure you're on the right data plan from day one. You're using mobile data every time you browse the web, check your emails, download apps or stream content on your phone, so if you're going to use the internet a lot, you'll need a generous usage limit - or an unlimited data plan.
As you pointed out, the hard part is knowing how much data you'll need in advance. This is what leads many people towards unlimited plans. I see your point about "playing it safe" but there is such a thing as being over-cautious. You could end up paying a lot more than you need to.
Having said that, there are fantastic unlimited deals to be had, like the Data Test Drive from Vodafone (www.vodafone.co.uk), which gives you three months' unlimited data at no extra cost, or the recently launched Full Monty, a truly unlimited tariff from T-Mobile (www.t-mobile.co.uk).
This guide looks at mobile data, unlimited plans and how to stay connected without paying over the odds.
Without getting too technical, mobile data is the "currency" we need for internet access on our phones. We're using data whenever we connect to the web, but certain activities - such as video streaming and downloading files - require more data than others.
Most mobile providers give their pay monthly customers a set usage limit as part of their mobile data tariff. This allows you to browse the internet, check your emails and stream or download as much as you like, until you reach the limit. From then on, additional charges may apply.
However, there are certain networks - including T-Mobile, Vodafone and Three - which offer their contract customers unlimited data to play with. This usually comes at an extra cost, but might prove better value if you'd otherwise be running up bills for excessive data consumption.
To find the right mobile plan for you, use our price calculator to compare deals.
This is where it gets tricky. No one really knows exactly how much data they need until they actually start using the internet on their phone. Most providers give their pay monthly customers a set usage limit of at least 250MB a month, though it can be up to 1.5GB or more.
|How much data is used when I...?|
|Download an app||0.2MB|
|Download a game||0.3MB|
|Download a song||3.0MB|
|Stream a video||1.0MB/minute|
Sadly, I can't tell you how much data you'll need, as it completely depends how you use your mobile internet. The following summary is based on estimates provided by Vodafone. The amounts are only approximate as the size of files can actually vary enormously.
Unless you're on an unlimited tariff it's important to monitor your usage, to avoid extra charges for excessive consumption. All the main networks allow customers to check their internet usage online, either on the company website or with a free downloadable app.
This is the easiest way to make sure you never go over the limit. If you find that you regularly hit or exceed your allowance, it may be time to upgrade your data plan or choose an unlimited deal. But remember, most "unlimited" data plans are subject to a fair usage policy.
Even though data plans are labelled "unlimited" our usage can still be capped in line with a fair usage policy. It's basically a set of guidelines laid out in the contract's terms and conditions.
If you breach the provider's fair usage policy you may be warned to stop downloading excessively or risk incurring additional charges. An unlimited tariff is not truly unlimited unless it clearly says so in the small print.
To stay out of trouble, make sure you understand your provider's fair usage policy. If you think you're likely to breach it, look at ways of reducing your data consumption or consider switching to a different network.
For more information read our guide to unlimited mobile data.
There is no right or wrong answer here. The pay monthly tariff that's best for you is the one that best meets your needs. For instance, there's no point having unlimited data if you live where 3G reception for your chosen network is too weak to get a signal. It's always good to check coverage in your area before signing up with a new provider.
If you've decided you need an unlimited plan, there are several major networks to consider. The deals and available handsets vary between different tariffs and providers, so it's worth taking time to shop around and compare pay monthly options online.
Below is just a sample of the unlimited data plans currently on the market:
Information correct as of February 2012.
Again, there is no correct answer to this question. While the cheapest deals are not always best, it's pointless paying extra for huge amounts of data you don't actually need.
For lighter web users, who perhaps just want emails and Facebook as well as only occasionally downloading apps, a standard 500MB monthly allowance should be more than enough. But it's still a good idea to keep track of usage with your online account or provider's app.
If you're someone who streams a lot of TV or regularly watches YouTube videos on your phone, it's likely that you'd quickly use up all your data. An unlimited plan may well be the best option, but you should always check for a fair usage policy before signing up.
Fair usage guidelines should never be ignored. If you regularly exceed what your contract deems “reasonable” you could be in for a shock when your phone bill arrives.
If you're not concerned about cost and simply want unlimited mobile internet no matter what the price, a truly unlimited contract is no doubt the way to go. But if it's value for money you want, there are plenty of deals with generous limits that can still allow you to browse all you like. You just need to make sure you understand the terms of your contract, as well as keep track of how much data you're using to avoid any extra charges.
To find the best mobile price plan for you, use the free and impartial price calculator at Mobilechoices.co.uk.