Opinion: What would make a fair mobile broadband plan

Despite what seems like low monthly caps on mobile broadband, mobile providers in Ireland are actually more generous than many other countries such as the UK.  For example, Three’s largest bill pay package on mobile broadband is 60GB in Ireland, compared to just 15GB in the UK.  The largest package I’m aware of in the UK is EE with a 25GB plan for £30, which works out more expensive than Three’s 60GB plan here.  But go over the month limit and there’s a nasty surprise!

Note: This article was published July 2015 and last revised December 2015.  Prices and packages have changed since then.  For up to date mobile broadband packages and pricing, see this article.

Based on reading various discussion forums such as boards.ie, the problem I hear about Three and Meteor/eMobile is the nasty out-of-bundle price they charge once one goes over their monthly limit.  Three charges €52.02 per GB and Meteor/eMobile charges €20.48 per GB, deceptively shown as 5.08c/MB and 2c/MB respectively in their fine print.  1GB equals 1024MB.  For example, if a user goes over their 60GB plan by just 5GB, they will be charged €293.99 instead of €39.99!

Surprisingly, Three’s mobile call plans don’t have that nasty out-of-bundle charge on its “All You Can Eat” offer.  Although they mention it has a 15GB fair-use limit, there is little word of them enforcing it, even when users tether their phone’s connection while also breaching the Terms of Service!  However, with many user complaints of their network having capacity issues, I have a strong feeling that they will use some form of deep-packet inspection firewall to block tethering in the near future like the Three UK network already does.

What would make a decent data plan?

Personally, I think all networks should provide a metered mobile broadband plan where users pay for exactly how much they use, just like an electricity or gas tariff.

Consider the following tariff:

  • €10 per month base price.
  • €1 per GB, rounded to nearest cent.
  • Unmetered 12am to 7am.

This one tariff would easily cover just about every user type whether they are a light or heavy user, while at the same time help reduce network usage by encouraging heavy users to do their downloading overnight.  For example, for a user who typically uses 50GB a month, I’m sure they would have no problem moving as much of that usage as possible to after midnight to reduce their bill, whereas there is no incentive to do so on Three’s 60GB plan.

Even users that don’t do a lot of downloading would also be more careful about their data usage, such as making sure Wi-Fi is switched on to reduce their monthly bill, compared to the flat-charges networks currently charge that does little other than discourage users from exceeding their limit.  Even if a heavy user clocked up 65GB during the day, the bill would be just €75 compared to €293.99 with Three’s 60GB plan.

Opinion on why networks “fine” heavy users

There appears to be several reasons why networks charge outrageous out-of-bundle data rates:

Think of Ryanair – It’s easy profit!  Just like how an overweight bag can cost multiple times the fare price even if the passenger is skinny, going over by a few GB is the same.  Even just a single GB over limit costs more than the 60GB data plan!  Yet another user could easily hog 100GB just watching countless Netflix titles on their mobile without spending more than their €20 top-up, just like how a heavy passenger can fly on Ryanair without a surcharge despite being twice the baggage limit heavier than the skinny passenger who had to pay an excess weight fee on their bag!

Lure users to an expensive plan – Most users don’t have a clue how much they will use in a month, particularly with many fixed broadband providers offering unlimited tariffs.  As a result, I’m sure many users are opting for a 60GB plan even if they use just 10GB a month on average in fear of going over the 15GB limit of the smaller plan.  Of course once they sign-up, they’re also tied up in a lengthy contract by the time they find out their real usage.

Reduce network usage – Even when users choose a large plan, there is still the fear of exceeding the limit.  Think of it like driving a car where the driver must pay for a full tank of specially formulated fuel every month whether or not they’ll use all the fuel and where the fuel gauge is located under the hood so the driver only has a rough idea how much fuel is left before driving off and risking an very expensive recovery call-out fee.

Offer unmetered usage overnight

Even if networks rather “fine” users who go over their data limits, they really should offer an incentive to do non-urgent data usage overnight.  For example, while streaming services depend on data access at the time of access, windows updates, file downloads and online backups can easily be scheduled to run overnight.   Windows updates alone often gobble 500MB or more, sometimes over 1GB when coupled with Office 365 updates. Virus update definitions are also quite large, so it’s no wonder many users find their data allowance eaten up quicker than expected.

If users were lured to do non-essential downloading and uploading overnight, that alone would potentially free up network congestion when it is needed such as for streaming.

Pay for bandwidth instead of GB’s

Three in Austria has a quite an interesting selection of mobile data plans where several of their plans are based on bandwidth instead of a fixed number of Gigabytes per month.  Basically the user can choose to pay for 20Mb, 30Mb or 150Mb with unlimited usage.

While downloads will still consume the same number of Gigabytes whether they are throttled or delivered at high speed, throttled plans have the advantage of reducing bandwidth consumed by video streaming services such as Netflix.

So those that don’t care about having HD or UHD streaming quality would probably be fine with a cheaper package, while also at the same time freeing up bandwidth for those that do want to pay for more bandwidth watch in higher definition.

I would be interested in seeing how this works in reality in Austria considering Three’s cheapest unlimited plan there is €20 per month, yet delivers up to an impressive 20Mb, much more than the capacity available on Three’s network in Ireland in most areas, particularly in the evening.

Update: 16th December 2015

I just found out that the virtual mobile operator iD Mobile does prepaid broadband with the most generous allowances I’ve seen to date.  As it’s prepay, out-of-bundle charges can only eat into the remaining credit, rather than run up a hefty bill.

At this time of checking, their prepaid data packages are 25GB for €15, 40GB for €25 and 60GB for €30 per month, which includes 4G access.  The catch is that it runs on the already congested Three network, but for between 50c and 60c per GB, it’s well worth a test run.  As it’s prepay and no number changing involved, it’s simple to escape if it does not work out, without going through a tedious awkward cancellation process.

2 thoughts on “Opinion: What would make a fair mobile broadband plan”

  1. Found your blog via your throttling post, great stuff.

    Thanks for the tip about ID-mobile. I haven’t used three (‘s network) since whatever year it was they launched when I had some strange problem where web browsing would be frequently redirected to a three webpage saying they were suffering from technical issues. Signed up with O2 instead and stayed with them for years until Meteor put a mast near me.

    At the time I’m talking about (seven years ago maybe?) three’s broadband seemed to be integrated with three UK as Irish traffic got routed via London but on the upside you got assigned a UK-registered IP address and so could use iPlayer and the like. I don’t suppose that’s still the case?

    If you hadn’t noticed Vodafone now offer mobile broadband plans with a higher limit than the 7.5GB they were offering for the last few years. They have the strongest LTE signal strength where I am, support HSPA-DC on 3G (alone in that AFAIK) and probably have the fewest mobile broadband customers so if it wasn’t for the 12 month minimum contract even on SIM only, I’d give them a go. They also bought the most 4G spectrum though I don’t know if that’s of any relevance yet.

    It’s amazing how every operator seems to go in cycles from good to bad, particular in any given area, and makes me very reluctant to sign up to anything other than on a 30 day rolling contract.

    Comreg could do so much to tip the balance back in the customer’s favour but instead they do absolutely f**k all. Never mind forcing the operators to change their charging model (which they would never do), if they even forced them to list “monthly cost for x GB” and “monthly cost of exceeding your allowance by 25%” alongside each other in the same size print, I have no doubt they’d be shamed into scaling back the 2c/MB shite.

    I’m currently on Meteor in Co. Offaly getting between 2 and 8Mbps down and practically nothing to 3Mbps up. The latter seems to be a feature of all mobile broadband. If iD turn out better I’ll let you know.

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