Vodafone Australia has introduced mobile plans that are described as having unlimited data. The operator’s Unlimited Plans will be commercially available starting on 2 May at three monthly price points, AUD 60.00 (US $45.28), AUD 80.00 (US $60.38) and AUD 100.00 (US $75.48). The plans include unlimited standard national talk and text along with 40 GB, 70 GB or 120 GB of data, respectively, at Vodafone’s standard network speeds, followed by unlimited data for use in Australia at speeds of up to 1.5 Mbps. The data allowances are available until 22 May as part of an introductory offer, after which they drop to 30, 60 or 100 GB per month.
With the tremendous expansion in consumer data appetite, driven largely by use of streaming entertainment content, mobile operators are under pressure to provide more and more data at reasonable rates—regardless of the negative impact that such packages might have on the bottom line. The marketing appeal of the word “unlimited” makes it tempting for operators to label offerings with it, even if sometimes the terms is not strictly speaking accurate.
In the case of this suite of three plans from Vodafone Australia, the word “unlimited” is entirely appropriate when it comes to the voice and text features, but when it comes to the most salient feature, mobile data, it is arguably misleading. The reduction in network speed after allowances are surpassed really amounts to throttling, since 1.5 Mbps is slow enough to seriously compromise the usability of most data-intensive applications.
The data allowances are very generous, and few users are likely to need more than 120 GB in a month’s time. With this in mind, and considering the negative impact that throttling has had on consumers’ confidence in mobile operators, it might have been a better idea for Vodafone not to characterize the data offering as “unlimited” at all, but simply to emphasize the generous size of the allowances. In the U.S., for example, several major operators recently came under regulatory scrutiny and censure on the grounds that they deceptively described certain data offerings as unlimited.
Vodafone’s Unlimited Plans are being offered in response to a similar “unlimited” offering from competitor Telstra that also throttles the signal to 1.5 Mbps, so Vodafone would at least not be the only major Australian operator to do so. Telstra’s plan tops out at 40 GB at top speed, not 120 GB, and the cost is AUD 69.00 (US $52.08) per month rather than AUD 60.00 for the same amount of data, so Vodafone’s offering looks better in terms of competitive advantage.