Mobile data usage

Most mobile phone plans have data inclusions that you can use on your handset to do things like browse the internet, send emails, use apps and watch videos. However, data inclusions vary considerably between plans and it's important to get the right amount of data for your usage needs.

How much data do you need?

The amount of data you need depends on how often you want to use the apps and features on your phone. Some apps or features use a lot of data. These include:

  • streaming TV and video (e.g. YouTube, Netflix and Foxtel)
  • playing online games
  • downloading music, photos, movies and software
  • uploading photos and videos to social media apps (e.g. Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat)
  • music streaming (e.g. Spotify, Apple Music)
  • FaceTime and video calling.

If you plan to do any of these things regularly, a larger data allowance may suit you better. If you mainly browse the internet and send emails, a smaller data allowance may be enough.

It's also important to be aware that communication apps, such as WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Skype, use data to send messages and make voice and video calls. If you regularly communicate using these apps, a larger data allowance might be a better choice.

Inclusions and promotions

Some mobile phone plans may offer entertainment inclusions such as free streaming of music and/or sporting events. If you're eligible for these inclusions, you should take these into account when deciding if a plan’s data allowance is right for you. You should also be aware of any promotional and time-limited offers for these services.

Excess data charges

Most post and prepaid mobile plans will give you a fixed data inclusion for a monthly fee. For example, for $35 a month you might get 10GB of data (as well as a voice call and SMS allowance).

This means that as long as you use 10GB of data or less, you shouldn’t have to pay anything more than $35 a month for data services. However, once you use over 10GB you will be charged extra at a much higher rate for the data you use.

Many plans will automatically add extra data to your service in 1GB blocks for an additional $10. For example, if you exceeded your monthly allowance by 1.5GB, it would cost an extra $20 on top of your monthly plan price of $35.

Some mobile phone providers offer plans that do not attract excess data charges if you exceed the monthly inclusion. 

These plans typically limit the download speed available once the headline data inclusion is exceeded. 

Talk to your service provider if you have concerns about what happens when you exceed your plan’s data inclusion. 

Mandatory usage notifications

Mobile phone providers are required to provide you with usage notifications (also known as spend management alerts) when you reach 50 per cent, 85 per cent and 100 per cent of your voice, SMS and data allowance.

Once you reach 100 per cent of your allowance, your provider must also notify you of the charges to proceed with adding extra data to your service. However, be aware that providers have a 48-hour window in which to send the notification and you could still be charged for any excess data usage during this time.

If you don't want to incur excess data charges, you should consider turning off ‘mobile data’ on your handset when you receive these notifications.

Manage your spend

There are several things you can do to make sure you stay within your data allowance so you avoid getting hit with bill shock.

Track your data usage

Most mobile phone providers allow you to track your data usage during a billing period by downloading their app onto your mobile. If you don't have a smartphone, this information may be available when you log into the provider’s website. However, you should be aware there can sometimes be a delay in updating the usage information on a provider’s app or website.

Understand data use for different activities

Knowing how much data different activities use — like emailing, browsing the internet, using social media apps, and streaming video or audio content — can also help you to keep your data use in check.

For more advice, see the tip sheet on mobile data from the The Australian Communication Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) website.

Reduce your data usage

There are also steps you can take to minimise your data usage:

  • wherever possible, use Wi-Fi instead of mobile/cellular data services. Set your phone up to automatically connect to Wi-Fi networks that you use frequently (like your home Wi-Fi) and take advantage of free Wi-Fi hotspots
  • don’t use apps or services on your mobile that use up a lot of data, like downloading or streaming video or audio, unless you’re connected to a Wi-Fi network. You can often adjust the settings on your phone so that certain apps don’t use cellular data services
  • turn off apps or features on your phone that automatically use up data, such as push notifications. These use up data in the background and can easily be turned off
  • manually shut down apps you use on your phone to make sure they don’t keep using data in the background. Some apps keep running in the background even after you’ve exited out of them.

See more tips from ACCAN about how to minimise data use on your smartphone.

If it’s not right, use your rights

More information

Mobile phone services