Data limits, what’s all the fuss about?

For my day job, I work for a UK network, and over the last few months have been on the receiving end of customers frustrations over data limits, but is it really that big a deal? 

We introduced our data caps when the iPhone 4 launched, although the actual restriction didn’t take effect until October 2010.  I didn’t completely agree with this at the time, and our internal briefings included statistics the stated 97% of our total customers base used approximately 200mb of data per month, but that the 3% that used more were responsible for 40% of the data usage on our network, staggering statistics I’m sure you will agree.


So we launched the iPhone 4 and immediately had customers stating that they couldn’t possibly survive on 500mb, so as the weeks went by and we checked more and more iPhone usage stats, it became clear that the amount of data we think we use and data we actually use are vastly different.

I was listening to one of my regular podcasts a few days ago and one of the presenters, who is a self confessed geek, obviously, and is constantly switching phones and checking data connections, and syncing all his data between several different devices was surprised to learn that he had a 500mb limit on his account that the didn’t even know about.  The man in question would certainly be in the power user group, and has been able to comfortably cope with just 500mb.

So 10 months down the line and most of the other networks have followed suit, and not just in the UK, so maybe that justifies the decision, but data restriction will always cause controversy, regardless of the statistics

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  • Great post Ian.

    I just don’t get why networks don’t offer tiered data plans. Why can’t they just offer bundles going up in multiples of 250MB? In the same way that different plans have differing quotas of minutes and texts?

    I think the networks have brought this on themselves by advertising their services as “unlimited”. If they’d just been honest and straightforward in the first place they would have kept consumers’ expectations realistic.

    As for T-mobile, it beggars belief that they could use a generous (3GB) allowance as a key selling point for their Android phones and then simply try to break their own contract terms when it suited them.

    And the whole argument about the average consumer only using 200MB of their 500MB allowance doesn’t wash. How is that a power user’s fault? Obviously it’s not good for 3% of users to account for 40% of traffic but if the networks sorted out their data tariffs this could easily be nipped in the bud.

  • Its simple. We manage our behaviour so we dont go over the limit, but if I did not have a data limit I would watch Youtube videos and stream Last.FM in the car.

    Just because we make do on the low limit by avoiding activities does not mean we would not do much more if we could.

  • Sadly, the most vital application I have on my HTC Desire is 3G Watchdog. Every month it turns “orange” with about ten days to go, and I have stop checking my Twitter stream on the train to work. I think twice about surfing the web out of a WiFi area (both home and work).

    I don’t stream audio or video. I just use email, Twitter, the web, sync my Google calendar and the other basic things built into the OS.

    If I visit somewhere and need to use Google Maps or – heaven forbid – Google Navigation, then I know I’m going to have to cut back elsewhere.

    I would happily pay extra for more data, but it’s just not an option which is ridiculous. We’re only going to see more people using more data in the future. More services are going into the cloud. Yes it means significant investment in operator infrastructure, but that’s where we’re at.

    • Dan Carter

      Which network is that on?

      • Orange.

        • Dan Carter

          Cool that works out well then.

  • Matt

    SO if this is the case, then why add a limit at all. If you (ie the networks) know that most users wont use it then wheres the biggie. 40% of usage still leaves 60% to the people not using it…

    I think Three have cottoned on to this and have a PR coup by saying “all you can eat” – knowing that there customers probably use around the 500m-1gb.

    *shrugs*

  • When I go on holiday/travelling to a different area of the country I always use up more data from using maps and keeping in touch with friends and family more. I’ve hit my 1gb allowance with Tmobile several times doing that… most months I don’t touch it though. It’s just nice to know I can use the data if I need it.

  • Not

    Indeed the “unlimited” bollocks really narks me off. If it’s unlimited, then it’s unlimited. If it’s 500mb, say it’s 500mb. Bunch of retards in marketing departments. If I had the time and money I would find pleasure in dragging them all through the courts.

  • Daniel

    If the networks are saying “most people don’t use the 500mb each month” then why place a limit? to restrick is to control and then to profit, if they cap it now when you don’t use it then they can charge you later when you will use it. Why cap something that people don’t use?

  • Rob L

    and of course, the networks make sure you don’t go over the limit by putting other restrictions in place anyway – things you can’t access… and stupid over-enthusiastic image compression.

    things are a LOT better than they were not so long ago – I got completely stiffed by Orange because they had such a terrible policy on data usage and had a big row with them. I left them and hadn’t looked back until recently when it looks like I’ve unwittingly become a customer of theirs again.

    The networks all know they can’t get away now with lying and advertising their services as unlimited when they aren’t. They might not consider it lying, but the law does, and the customers do. As others have said, the actual caps don’t matter terribly. It’s the mentality that’s the problem; the networks AREN’T being hurt in any way by people’s current data usage (come on, the data we’re talking about really is tiny in reality) plus there are better ways they can deal with it.

    Still at least we now have rather more sensible tariffs for calls and texts – texts at 10p for effectively less than 1k of data IS ridiculous.

  • As a T-mobile customer I just dont buy it. I know there is a capped speed for those that are on 1gb internet and even on 3gb you notice a better performance when you change the default apn settings. Now i havent even mentioned the poor network for some people including myself. Now imagine if your car was capped so it could only go at 30 mph how far would you drive with it??
    My broadband dongle from t-mobile is lucky to hit 300kbs and thats at home, at work forget it. Im lucky to get 3G off my other T-Mobile sim and if i do i get 1bar.
    I hope Ian you get this point im trying to make. The fuss im making is for me to exceed my monthly limit I would have to have a fast enough connection consistently.

  • Apparently the 3g network is getting congested on the frequency its on. Thats why iphone doesnt the same restriction because it uses a different frequency so i’ve read in another post. If thats the case why not say that?

    • Dan Carter

      iPhone is also 900mhz 3G compatible as are phones like the Nokia C7 and N8 plus some Android phones. The issue now is no network supports 900mhz 3G at the moment. Once they do it should help