Save money on mobile data – you could get it for free!

Mobile data

Average monthly Australian mobile data use is a very closely guarded secret – only Telstra, Optus and Vodafone know and they are not talking. Why? Because the current mobile data pre-and-post-paid plan systems are a huge cash-cow for them and their MVNOs (mobile virtual network operators).

Mobile data plans work on the principle of users never using their data plan fully each month. If they do data rates are throttled to 1.5Mbps or you have to buy data top-ups. And in most cases the data allowances reset monthly – lost after each billing period. Its very one-sided!

The dirty secret Telcos don’t want exposed is that most Australians commit to mobile data plans that are way above their average use. All they are doing is making money for the Telco or MVNO. There are ways to save and even get you mobile data for free!

How much mobile data is too much?

If you search for ‘Average monthly mobile data use in Australian’ (or any reasonable variation) you will find lots of articles on how much audio or video streaming uses etc. There is no end of helpful advice (see Step 2 below) but nothing that tells you what are averages for different types of users.

The last Australian Bureau of Statistics mobile data study was in June 2018. It found then that average mobile data use was about 9GB based on 26.981m connections. Industry analysts generally predicted a 40% growth in mobile data use each year. Telcos seized on that saying plans less than 20Gb risked running out of data.

Well here is the rub. Datareportal says number of mobile connections has grown to 32.89m (a 1.3% increase between January 2019-21) or 130% of our population. A large proportion of that number is machine-to-machine communications.

But it does not stop there. OpenSignal has real world stats from its users. It says Australian 4G users (in September 2020) consumed an average of 9.4GB a month. That is nowhere near the Telcos suggested 40% FUD (fear, uncertainty and deception) increase a year!

mobile data

You have to ask why Telstras lowest post-paid plan is 40GB per month. There is a huge disconnect between this amount and real use. Of course Telstra will say its the consumers choice but we reasonably understand that its marketing and sales efforts are focused on even more expensive 80GB plans because they include 5G!

By the way most people make the same mistake with unlimited NBN plans when a typical streaming savvy household uses about 300GB a month. You could save there too. It is high time mobile data and internet use was charged per GB just like electricity is charged per Kilowatt hour (and a daily connection fee).

Step 1 to save is to work out how much mobile data you use (average over three months).

 It should be on your monthly account. We find that

  • Occasional users who regard a smartphone as a device to make and receive calls are flat out using 1GB a month – often only a few MB for telemetry and location.
  • Average users with daily browsing, email and search will, at best, need 3-5GB (about 100-120MB per day).
  • Power users that stream Spotify (music) and some YouTube (video) generally get by with 20-30GB.
  • And if you are a ludicrous user have a very close look at how to cut down.

Step 2 is to recognise the mobile data munchers

Telstra has a handy use calculator here

  • 25 emails and 25 web page view daily is 1.5GB a month
  • HD Video (YouTube or Facebook) for 1 hour a day is 20GB a month
  • Browser-based games are similar to HD Video
  • Stream music for 1 hour a day is 5GB per month
  • Stream HD Movies (Netflix) is 115GB a month
mobile data

And remember that we are only talking about mobile data – you can safely assume that every pre-or-post-paid plan has unlimited free texts and voice calls to national numbers.

Step 3 is to research mobile data plans that suit you use.

I urge you not to use price comparison websites for anything more than to get a feel for what is out there. Once you go down that rabbit hole (sign up or answer an online questionnaire), you are mercilessly treated as their property with the sole aim spamming the hell out of you to get more of your business.

I repeat – a price comparison website aims to make money from you, not necessarily to get you the best deal!

As a wise, long-dead reporter Franklin Pierce Jones once said, “When you get something for nothing, you just haven’t been billed for it yet.”

mobile data
There are hundreds of MVNOs and plans but all insist you get their sim first. e-Sim will fix that and open up the ability to instantly switch providers or plans.

Step 4 – assuming that you don’t need more than 20-40GB a month

That puts Telstra out of the picture. Its lowest-cost post-paid plan (not 5G) is $55 for 40GB – $1.38 per GB, and you lose all unused data at each new bill.

It also has pre-paid monthly plans at 8GB/$30 ($3.75 per GB), 18GB/$40 ($2.22) and 28GB/$50 ($1.79). These have up to 200GB data bank roll-over provided you recharge on time. The roll over sounds good but you must use your included data allowance first before digging into the data bank.

But the Catch 22 on many plans is that if you don’t use that in the following month, it disappears. You need a data bank with no expiry provided you pay on time.

Step 5 – investigate MVNOs.

MVNOs resell the Telstra, Optus and Vodafone network. If you need Australia wide coverage, then its Telstra or Optus networks.

The majority of MVNOs buy data at wholesale rates and resell it to you at a package price with their terms and conditions. Note all prices below exclude specials and limited time offers.

Woolworths (Telstra network) gives you a 200GB data bank roll-over as long as you pre-pay each month. As an added carrot it offers users 10% off a monthly shop (to a maximum of $50 discount). It is by far the easiest pre-paid plan.

Prices are 1GB/$10 ($10), 6GB/$20 ($3.33), 30GB/$30 ($1.00), 42GB/$40 ($0.95) and 55GB/$50 ($0.91). There are frequent specials that can halve prices for six months. They also have 180/365-day plans with data gifting to other Woolworth Mobile users.

Aldi (Telstra) has 3GB/$15 ($5), 20GB/$25 ($1.25), 40GB/$35 ($0.88) and 55GB/$45 ($0.82) pre-paid plans with no limit on data roll-over

Boost Mobile (Telstra) has 5GB/$20 ($4), 20GB/$30 ($1.50), 30GB/$40 ($1.33), 40GB/$50 ($1.25) and 65GB/$70 ($1.08). Boost allows unused data to roll over for one month.

Step 6 – save more money using home Wi-Fi.

Assuming you have an NBN Unlimited plan, use Wi-Fi instead of mobile data when you are at home. Most phones have a Wi-Fi preference setting over using mobile data.

Step 7 – check phone settings

Every app can be set only to use Wi-Fi, not mobile data. Even better only turn mobile data on when you go out.

Step 8 – buy the phone outright

If you buy a phone on a Telco plan for 24 to 36 months, you are stuck using its higher cost mobile plans.

With 85% of all smartphone purchases under $600, you can read GadgetGuy’s reviews, and you will find some excellent 4G phones from $399.

Step 9 – 5G forget it for a few years

My neighbours are with Telstra, each having an expensive late-model Samsung Galaxy smartphones, one Samsung Galaxy Tab 4G and a 4G modem (as they travel a lot and don’t need fixed NBN). And they are wasting money by not using their respective 40GB plans.

Well, blow me down when Telstra emailed them and advised they should upgrade to 5G for an extra $10 per month. They dutifully did despite not having 5G devices nor 5G reception and are now paying extra for service they don’t need and can’t use.

Step 10 – get it for free!

My wife and I were each on a Telstra $65 monthly plan because frankly, I dropped the ball – after all, my business was paying for it – a tax deduction and all that. That was $1560 per annum.

We now have a total $40 a month commitment via Woolworths ($480 per annum) and get that back with the 10% monthly shop discount that saves us $500-600 per year (no real cost😁). And in checking our data banks, we each have 200GB in reserve if we need it.

Mobile data for free – works for me!