back to article Mobile operators warned on 'unlimited' data gouging

A UK watchdog has urged mobile operators to obey the spirit of rules on data billing, not the letter, if they don't want greater restrictions imposed. Calling for more useful information for customers, the UK's Communications Ombudsman reckons it might be necessary for telcos to send out warnings when punters approach their data …

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Anonymous Coward

Vodafone had a nice clear way of describing their "Unilimited" data until people whinged, so they just made their offering worse to fit the whingers.

It clearly states the 500meg fair use meaning there was no over charges, but if you consistently went over, they'd ask you to upgrade... seemed fair.

But this sparked outrage so now I've got half a gig before they start charging (...well, that's what it says but I think they don't always in practice)

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Anonymous Coward

Can you please explain how having a limit on a so called unlimited plan is being clear and fair with their customers. I suspect we're operating on differing definitions of the words.

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Silver badge

@Norfolk'n'Goode: They should simply be forced to drop the word unlimited......

..........unless that is *precisely* what the plan means. If they wish to limit uber-downloaders then they should have a clearly expressed series of "rungs" on the download ladder with advance warning when a customer is near the relevant limit. In the current situation their abuse of the English language is taking the piss.

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Bronze badge

Typical users

If your connection has a FUP of 500MB and the telco is going to charge you extra if you use more then your connection is 500MB, it's not unlimited and should not be sold as such.

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FAIL

Unlimited should be

It is outrageous that the operators can use the word "unlimited" when it is not unlimited. I don't care whether that limit is apparent to most customers or only one. If there is any sort of limit to how much data anyone can download (within the constraints of the speed of the connection) then it is not unlimited.

I have had conversations with idiots at various ISPs and mobile operators that have gone along these lines.

Me: Is there a limit on how much I can download?

Them: No.

Me: So I can download as much as I like.

Them: Yes, subject to the Fair Usage policy.

Me: So there is a limit then.

Them: No.

Me: If there is not limit, that means I can download as much as I like.

Them: Subject to the Fair Usage policy.

Me: So there is a limit.

etc ad infinitum.

Unlimited means they will not impose restrictions on usage. Any restrictions mean that there is a limit and so calling it "unlimited" is a complete lie and the ASA (toothless paper tiger that it is) should not permit this.

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IR

If it's unlimited, then by definition they can't charge you for going over your limit.

Warn them, lower their speed, kick them off for going over a particular amount too much, but charging them as soon as they go over the number hidden in the small print is going too far.

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Anonymous Coward

"The use of "unlimited" has been challenged before, but is allowed by the Advertising Standards Authority as long as the cap is placed high enough to go unnoticed by a "typical user""

No doubt been pointed out maany times before, but goes to show what a fat lot of use the ASA is then. They can't even understand English it seems, so let lies go unchecked.

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Gimp

3

In 3's defence - on the topic of subsidising the few - I just called them up to 'upgrade' my blackberry plan (1000 free minutes, 800ish free txts and a few gig of data (AUP style)) which clocked in at £40 a month and got a shiny new Samsung Galaxy s2 with twice as many free minutes and txts, and the true unlimited data plan for £10 less than I was paying before.

I'm sure people are going to rat all over my monthly bill, but I was under the impresion £30 a month isn't that bad a deal - especially as I now don't need an internet connection at home (I'm in the docklands - 3g is faster than anything BT can deliver across copper and Virgin don't come to my home)

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Completely agree

I went with 3 almost a year ago, I got a Desire HD for £35pm for two years, 2000 any network minutes, 1000 texts and 1Gb of data. A month later, they started the One Plan with actual, genuine unlimited data. Without so much as a word from me, I got a nice letter from them telling me they were upgrading me to all-you-can-eat data at no extra charge. And I really don't mind the 2 year contract. I don't need the latest and greatest shiny thing, I am really happy with the DHD, and there's nothing which has been released since which I want more.

My wife went with 3 at around the same time, same contract but she got a Nokia N8. After less than a week, the phone was unusable as it would reboot constantly. Some quick Googling revealed that this was not an isolated incident. 3 offered to replace the phone like - for like. I argued and said this was a bigger problem than one bricked phone, and said we wanted a DHD instead. Apparently normal policy is to replace the phone with the manufacturer under the warranty, however once the chap on the phone had a quick word with his supervisor, we got it replaced with a DHD, no problem.

I know 3 have a bad reputation for customer service, but I have to say that I've so far found them to be very easy to deal with and always seem willing to help. Of course, YMMV.

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FAIL

Free?

"(1000 free minutes, 800ish free txts and a few gig of data (AUP style)) which clocked in at £40 "

How can 1000 free minutes clock in at £40? Or is it not free at all?

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Anonymous Coward

Giffgaff is limited to 20GB though. and if you exceed this they block you're mobile internet

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Meh

No confusion with my mobile telco

http://support.giffgaff.com/app/answers/detail/a_id/240/~/what's-the-fair-usage-policy%3F

Seem's fairly clear to me: "If you have the £10, £15 or £20 goodybag (i.e. wherever we say data is unlimited) then there is NO Fair use policy."

Shop about people.

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Silver badge

"unlimited"

They need to ban carriers and ISPs from using the word "unlimited", it's not just grammatically incorrect, it's an outright lie.

I used to have an Orange account which had "unlimited" (read small print and bill - 500meg a month) connection. Just leaving K9 email client running on my phone for a day would polish off more than 10% of my monthly allowance. A few minutes on facebook would do the same.

So I tend to turn off my mobile data unless I really need it, such as for google maps navigation.

Also the first app I installed on my Android handset was 3G watchdog. Damn useful it is too.

Now does that sound like the behaviour of someone with an "unlimited" connection?

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Silver badge

Unlimited should be unlimited

If ISPs want to limit data to a "fair use cap" of say 200MB, it should be advertised as 200MB per month.

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Silver badge

Too right. Obviously networks don't want someone really taking the piss, so there should be a sensible "Unlimited" definition. 200MB is nothing like it.

3 have an unlimited service (when you can get a signal!), which seems to be pretty good. I pushed their sales staff for a figure and the only one I could get out of them was 80gig, and even then they said they wouldn't cut you off, but you might get a letter expressing "concern". Now that sounds more like a far use limit.

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Devil

Having lived in Ireland for a few years, it continually amazes me that mobile phone service provision over here is so abysmal by comparison.

I don't mean in terms of coverage, or cost, or whatever. Just in terms of the policies governing how providers work.

If you've ever tried to port a number from one provider to another in the UK you know that it's a miserable ballache of a process. Operators whinge and moan and insist they can't make it faster/better/easier because of unspecified technical reasons. Yet, across the Irish Sea, operators regularly process such changes within 30 minutes of the request being made.

My suspicion is that, as with many other areas of UK service provision, network providers have gotten used to getting away with a general lack of actual service to the customer, and they resist suggestions like this because they suspect they'll get away with it (because the Regulator has limited powers and seems terrified of using them).

Never mind a "friendly reminder" when you're close to your limit - ask yourself why have they never implemented a system that would cut off your data access when you hit your limit (or some agreed point a bit over it eg 5% above your cap) and redirect you to a page telling you what it'll cost to buy more data access that month? They don't do this because they know people spend more when they're not aware what their usage costs them. It's the same reason that if you're on a £35/month contract but only using a fraction of your minutes/texts/data, they go out of their way *not* to tell you - unless the contract runs out and you threaten to leave.

Across all the providers operating here, the term service applies only in the loosest, most generous sense. I've no objection to them making a profit, but do so in an honest and upfront way, not by being lying gits who hide behind unnecessary bureaucracy.

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WTF?

Misuse of the word

The word "unlimited" implies that there are no limits... Obviously there will always be limits, either arbitrary ones imposed by the provider, or ones which are inherent to the technology in use...

As such, nothing can really be described as "unlimited".

Instead, you could use words such as "unmetered" or "uncapped" when the provider is not placing arbitrary limits on the service, allowing you to make as much use of it as technology permits.

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"Unlimited*"

Is clearly a different word that what what's in the dictionary.

(full marks to three for their one plan, my highest usage in a single month was 11gb)

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Unhappy

Nobody seems to even question...

...whether it's really reasonable to say, "I'm subsidizing other people who download more!"

So? If you live in a lousy neighborhood and the police are around all the time, do you get charged massively more because the people in nice neighborhoods are 'subsidizing' you so you can use more police?

If you don't drive much are you going to complain that you're 'subsidizing' people who travel, because they take advantage of roads, public parks, signage, maps, etc?

Is someone who buys digital cable TV and watches it for 10 hours a week subsidizing someone who has digital cable TV and watches it for 60 hours a week?

Do we really want little clocks stuck on everything we own (or do) to make ABSOLUTELY SURE that nobody else gets some advantage from it?

Why are we so horribly enraged at the thought of someone else getting something they 'don't deserve'? I mean, I hear people talk chuckling-ly about toddlers' penchant for MINE MINE MINE tantrums, but it seems to me that most adults are at least as bad...

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Megaphone

Vodafone....

Vodafone are actually the worst!

Back when the HTC Desire was launched - it came with a 500mb limit despite the iPhone having a 1GB limit (and no multi-tasking) - lot's of us took to the forum to ask why the limit was so low and were told "it's only a soft limit, if you go over it - you won't be charged - if you continuously go over it - we will have to look at what options are available on a case by case basis" on that basis a lot of us decided it seemed like the best option.

Thankfully I saw sense and pulled out at the last minute and went to Three (who were offering 1GB at the time) but a good 300-400 people (based on Facebook conversations, Twitter conversations and forum conversations) opted for Vodafone who waited until people had their nice shiny new HTC Desire then changed the terms to a hard cap which you would be charged for going over. I reported them to trading standards complete with print-outs of what official staff had told us in the forum and what their webpages said.

I'm just glad I moved to Three who upgraded me to The One Plan with All You Can Eat Data with no fuss when they introduced the new plan 2 months after I got my phone. In case you wondered - tethering is allowed and encouraged - and has a faster upload and download than my fixed line 8mb business broadband (which syncs to the exchange at the full 8128k)

Also - Three actually have a signal where people live - ie I'm in the Scottish Borders, in a village with about 200 houses, but still get a 1.7mb down and 1.2mb up on Three.

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Anonymous Coward

There are possible ground for having a free phone out of vodafone for that. You're signed into the original contract for the 18-24 months. They have then changed that contract. Your original contract is now null and void. IANAL, but I'm pretty sure you are in your rights to reject the new contract and just walk away... Complete with the phone which came as part of the original contract.

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Devil

Essentially unregulated

How did you get on with Trading Standards? I also had instructions from the Vodafone director's office as to how to cancel the contract when they introduced the limits - which Vodafone failed to honour. I also involved Oftel - they too were all well-meaning but utterly toothless.

If I wasn't willing to take Vodafone to court then they were not willing to get involved beyond their minimum legal obligations. For being held to over a year of an essentially useless contract I managed to get a £25 fine out of them for poor customer service. The regulatory bodies considered that to be job done and literally just stopped talking to me. So look out - no one represents you except you.

I've now bought out the last bit of the contract to be free of the £uckers and very happily moved to giffgaff. Needless to say I will never be a Vodafone customer ever again, have successfully encouraged others to move away from them with this sorry tale and will continue to do so ad infinitum. Much more effective in the long term, if less satifying.

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Tried walking away..

..they did it on the basis of "changing the charging scheme, not the ocntract" - hence all this soft limit/hard limit bollocks. I couldn't risk going to court as Vodafone would obviously have better legal reps than me. Did get a call from Watchdog though - fat lot of good it did when it got on telly, Vodafone didn't comment and the Beeb also considered it to be job done. A contract is so much risk these days you are almost certainly going to get a far better deal paying outright for your handset and making your wisest PAYG choice

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Pint

This is why...

I use Opera,

I have 500mb limit and often find myself streaming Web radio to ensure I get my monies worth.

Just pissed that this Tablet S won't tether with my N8

Beer for Friday.

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The writer is too kind to the operators.

The cost of internet peering/transit is negligible in this context - the only significant cost of supporting heavy users is the impact on capacity/performance in the mobile network. Hence the subscriber charging regime is decided by the service provider purely based on their internal costs and their analysis/expectation of subscriber behaviour is response to tariffs.

Given that all the networks have the capability of turning off data services when usage thresholds are reached, their policy of continuing to deliver service, albeit at a much higher charging rate, so high that no rational consumer would continue to use it, is clearly intended to deter subscribers from taking lower price plans, or, in case of 'unlimited' usage plans, simply profiteering.

A simple remedy would be the requirement to explicitly offer subscribers the option of turning off data service when thresholds are reached, or, better still, outlaw punitive charging regimes in favour of either pro-rata charging for excess use, or simply blocking service when thresholds are reached.

Of course, were that principle to be extended to call and text services, it would blow a massive hole below the waterline in the whole current mobile service tariff regime, which depends so heavily on getting subscribers to buy more minutes/texts than they need, simply to avoid punitive charges when usage thresholds are breached.

So don't expect any changes to any tariffs any time soon!

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Anonymous Coward

Vodafone is terrible

I ditched Vodafone because their 3G coverage and data bundles for smartphones are pathetic

I managed to stay within the 1Gb because I hardly got a 3G signal where I needed it!

Now I'm on one of the two networks which offer true unlimited data.. in my case it's giffgaff which runs on the o2 network.

The difference is like night and day! I can use my phone when and where I need it, and I don't have to worry about how much I use!

Well done giffgaff.. now please don't become like $ky and the other mobile networks.. as in don't reel your customers in and then start raising prices and becoming more uncompetitive!

And good riddance Vodafone! Rubbish 3G coverage, no 3G on 900 MHz, pathetic data limits.. and still expensive!

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Doesn't matter if they do, use your biggest contract-free advantage and just jump ship to the next best deal. If none of them are as good, just bite the bullet and think of the good times

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Anonymous Coward

Vodafone is terrible - part two

Further to my last post, I forgot to show a way out of mobile data hell for those of you who felt my pain to, giffgaff are offering free SIMs with £5 credit if you want to give it a try! http://bit.ly/vqQRgf

Don't forget that Three do unlimited data deals too, but they are more and more lacking in 2G backup signal (from Orange) as they are switching it off in areas deemed to have sufficient signal strength.

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@Vodafone is terrible

+1. Just returned to Three, which completes my trying all of the networks.

£5.11 per month for 2GB data and free skype is hard to beat. Net-neutrality FTW.

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Headmaster

"so that then begs the question"

No, it doesn't. I don't think you know what that expression means.

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