A Guide To Unlimited

A Guide To Unlimited

What Does Unlimited Really Mean?

Many SIM contracts these days include some element of ‘unlimited’ allowances. Whether on minutes, texts or data allowances, networks are increasingly including more and more unlimited elements to their plans to encourage us to sign up with them. This obviously sounds very enticing, after all the idea is to make their contracts more competitive and to entice us in but we should also be careful about exactly what ‘unlimited’ means and when ‘unlimited’ really does have a limit.

Unlimited Minutes

Recently we’ve started to see some contracts, such as T-Mobile’s ‘Full Monty’ offering and O2’s ‘On and On’ deal with unlimited calls included. In general this is a great development because it means you don’t really need to think about a minute allowance in your contract or how much an individual call is going to cost. However, before making a broad assumption that all calls are included in this plan you should read the small print of your individual contract. For a mobile network to be able to describe their calls as unlimited they should cover calls to UK landlines and UK mobiles, however they definitely won’t cover calls to foreign numbers of calls you make when abroad.

In addition to foreign calls, unlimited minutes plans are unlikely to cover calls to what are known as ‘none geographical numbers’. None geographical numbers are phone numbers that start with 05 or 08, for example 0800 numbers or 0845 numbers that are free or reduced rate calls from landlines. Ofcom, the regulator, are investigating this and there may be changes here next year but for now these numbers aren’t included in ‘unlimited calls’ packages. Premium rate numbers aren’t included either and there are also some more surprising omissions – for example calls to the Isle of Mann or the Channel Islands may not be included in your allowance.

You should also check to see what ‘fair use’ policy your network has. A fair use policy is a legal clause in your contract which typically states that your unlimited minutes must be used for personal calls and only in your mobile (ie you can’t use the SIM in lots of different devices). The purpose is to protect the network from unlimited minute plans being used illicitly, for example to make lots of automated spam calls for shady business purposes, but in some cases if you are a very heavy user (on the phone for many hours a day, every day) a fair use policy could be quoted to charge you more or to allow the network to get out of their contract with you.

Generally unlimited minutes contracts are a great way to control your call costs but you should be aware that these exemptions do apply and not make lots of calls that aren’t covered by your plan on the assumption that they will be essentially free of charge.

Unlimited Texts

Much more common than unlimited minutes allowances are contracts with unlimited texts. Unlimited texts have become a fairly standard offering for many SIM contracts over the last few years and there is a good chance that your plan will include them.

As with unlimited calls, in general unlimited texts are great. You don’t need to worry about the cost of an individual text message or how many messages you have in your allowances. However, again there are some exceptions. Generally unlimited texts will cover any text messages to UK personally owned mobile phones, from in the UK. As with calls you will be charged considerably more for texting to foreign numbers or when you are abroad. Also there are increasing numbers of premium rate text messages (for example when you text to donate to a charity, make a small payment or respond to a poll), these will often not be covered by your unlimited package. Usually in these cases the provider will state that there is a cost in addition to your standard network charge, in these cases the standard network charge will be part of your allowance but the additional charge won’t be.

You also shouldn’t assume that multimedia messages (MMS) – for example picture or video messages are included in your allowance. In many contracts with defined allowances a MMS is charged as the same as 2,3 or 4 text messages from your text message allowance. However, as unlimited text allowances have become more common, picture and video messages are also frequently not included –for example O2’s unlimited text plans charge 35p for a picture message.

The final thing you should always be aware of is a fair usage policy. As with unlimited calls packages if you are using your SIM contract to send regular texts for personal usage this shouldn’t be a problem. Networks are concerned about their SIMs being used to send thousands and thousands of spam texts from automated machines however and their fair usage policies are intended to protect them from this. If you do send many thousands of texts a month there is a chance you could run into problems here as they reserve the right to charge you more or disconnect you if they believe your are not using your SIM in accordance with their policy but for most users this won’t be a problem.

Unlimited Data / Internet

Unlimited data allowances are more unusual and more problematic than unlimited minutes or texts allowances. Because data tends to use a lot of network capacity it is expensive for the networks to offer and they are paranoid about users using many gigabytes or data every day for lots of downloading, streaming and even making voice calls over the internet. Despite these fears, unlimited data allowances do exist but you should definitely make sure you are aware of what ‘unlimited’ really means in these cases.

As with minutes and calls, unlimited data won’t cover you for use abroad but you should also be very aware of the restrictions on data use in the UK too. Some networks will stipulate that the data allowance can only be used with the phone and they don’t allow you to ‘tether’ your mobile phone to use your data allowance, for example to use your phone as a modem to get internet access on another device like a laptop or tablet computer. There is also likely to be a fair usage policy which is more stringent that for minutes and texts. Because there is a huge discrepancy in the amount of data customers user (from relatively little for basic web browsing and email to vast amounts for downloading or streaming large files like movies) networks tend to set an amount at which they can charge you more or cut off your usage if they believe you are using their service excessively. In this instance there is a risk that if you are a high data user unlimited may not be unlimited and you should definitely check what your allowances are before using your SIM excessively for data usage.

Summary

  • Unlimited allowances are generally great as you don’t need to worry about costs or exceeding your monthly inclusive allowances but you should be aware of any exceptions
  • ‘Unlimited’ typically won’t cover use outside the UK, either when roaming or contacting foreign numbers. There may also be other exceptions such as none geographic numbers or premium rate services
  • You should also be aware of any ‘fair usage’ policy and check that you comply with the stipulations if you are likely to be a very high user or you could still risk being hit with a large bill or even disconnected if the networks believe you are abusing their services.