Unlimited mobile internet still has ‘limitations’

Tele2 was the first mobile phone provider in the Netherlands to introduce a mobile subscription with unlimited data usage. T-Mobile followed soon after. KPN and Vodafone continued to keep the data packages ‘limited’ for a bit longer, but eventually had to give in to competition from T-Mobile/Tele2, who have now merged. However, ‘unlimited data’ subscriptions still have some limitations, also within the Netherlands.

How easy to use is unlimited data?

These restrictions have a lot to do with the ‘brake’ that providers put on extreme data usage. This means that after you use a certain amount of GB in a day, you must take a manual action to continue using additional GB for free. For example, by activating an extra data package in the mobile provider’s application. ‘Unlimited’ subscriptions come at no cost, but can be irritating at times when, for example, watching TV online. After all, those additional data packages are smaller than the standard daily package.

The reason providers have put some sort of data limit on continuous mobile data usage is simple. They want to prevent customers from using ‘unlimited’ mobile subscriptions for streaming services, such as game or video servers. That in itself is somewhat understandable. However, the discussion remains whether you can still call an ‘unlimited’ subscription an ‘unlimited’ subscription. Formally, all providers also have a Fair Use Policy (FUP). This means that they have the right, in the event of excessive data usage, to warn the subscriber that if such behavior continues, they may be charged for it. As a heavy consumer of mobile data, I have never experienced this in practice. However, the fact that it is in the conditions is a kind of stick behind the door for the providers.

Day packages differ by provider

At the moment, providers are limited to configuring daily packages to keep the actual extreme data consumption within limits. On T-Mobile/Tele2 and KPN, customers with an ‘unlimited’ subscription receive 8GB of data every day as standard. When that packet is almost empty (providers often use the 80% limit), it can be supplemented each time with a 2 GB packet. Although there is no limit to the number of additional packages you can activate per day, you must go to your provider’s application to do it manually.

Until the beginning of this month, customers with a Vodafone Red Unlimited subscription received ‘only’ 5GB per day and the additional packages were 1GB. However, he did not have to do anything for the first extra GB. It was activated automatically. Since October 1, Vodafone has doubled the daily and additional packages. So now you get 10 GB per day as standard, which you can top up with 2 GB each time. That makes unlimited usage a bit easier to use.

Many additional packages

Like I said, I’m a big consumer. I watch a lot of mobile TV/video. Then quickly check the daily packages. HD TV or video on a tablet costs 1-2GB of data per hour (depending on stream quality and settings). When I’m on the road watching F1 or a bike race, my iPad can stream 3-6 hours of continuous video. A standard daily pack of 5 or 8 GB doesn’t do me much good. That’s enough to watch TV for 2.5 to 5 hours. Of course, not everyone will use that amount of data, but the daily packs are a limitation nonetheless.

Initially I had a subscription to Tele2 with unlimited data. I currently have a subscription to T-Mobile Unlimited and Vodafone Red Unlimited. There are months when I ‘burn’ more than 100GB with both providers. So I regularly come in contact with the additional packages.

Real disability abroad

What all subscriptions with unlimited data have to deal with is the limitation of data usage abroad. Due to EU roaming legislation, which came into force in the summer of 2017, the terms and conditions of a mobile subscription apply in all EU countries. This means that you can use your call and data package in all EU countries, without additional costs, just as if you were in the Netherlands.

So I would expect this to apply to unlimited data subscriptions as well. This is where the EU meets the providers. They charge each other for data and other network costs. To prevent a customer (like me) from burning tens of GB of data during their stay abroad, within the EU, providers can set a (fixed) monthly data limit for those subscriptions. How high this needs to be is determined based on inter-carrier data rates and the level of subscription costs. A somewhat complicated calculation, but the conclusion is that the limit with Dutch providers is between 21 and 25 GB. T-Mobil/Tele2 offers 21GB, KPN 25GB, and Vodafone also used 25GB, but increased to 40GB this month. If you want to use even more data in the same month, you must purchase an additional package.

In short, unlimited is still not always and everywhere unlimited. And while in some cases (overseas use) this is justifiable, sometimes it’s just less user-friendly, especially for real heavy consumers. I’ll call them first world problems 😉

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