Data sharing for Dummies – A 5 minute key point summary of Australian plans

Mobile data sharing contracts are a new feature in Australia. They allow families, businesses, and groups of friends to share a single data allowance between multiple users. The principal these plans is based on is simple : Data you pay for but don’t use goes to waste : Why not share it with other users?

The fact that mobile data is expensive (especially if you often exceed data allowances) is an incentive towards sharing contracts. The 2015 Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman report notes how:

New complaints about excess data charges increased by 4.4 per cent quarter-on-quarter.

Hopes of major savings are the main attraction of data saving plans, but how often do these plans deliver? Having researched the plans, we can tell you. Sharing data maybe the best choice for some but it doesn’t work for everyone.

When does it make sense to share data?

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) research shows that the average Australian uses about 2GB of data a month on their phone. Almost a quarter of people have plans that give them twice or more this data allowance. The number of people owning multiple mobile devices is also on the rise which means they’re using more data per deice every year over more and more devices.
These figures suggest many mobile device users might benefit from sharing data in either scenario :

  • With at least one other user, or even
  • Between their own mobile devices.

Whether or not you are one of the people likely to benefit depends on the terms of your current phone contract, your data usage patterns, and what alternative options have to offer.

Who wins with Australian data sharing plans ?

If you can answer “Yes” to any of the following questions it is worth investigating what you might gain from a data sharing:

  • Do you find that your existing monthly data allowance is not fully used?
  • Do you think you pay too much for mobile phone data?
  • Are you frustrated with the rising costs of your teenager’s mobile phone bill?
  • Would you like to keep track of a number of mobile devices on a single bill?

How they work – Sharing Data across Multiple Devices

The specific details of data sharing plans vary between companies but typically they have the following characteristics:

  • The number of sharers in the plan is limited.
    The number of people you can attach to a plan varies whether you’re talking about Optus’, Vodafone’s or Telstra’s plans. Usually a maximum of ten users can put their smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices on a shared data contract.
  • Any group of subscribers can decide to share data.
    It makes no difference if the data sharers are members of a family or unrelated. So long as they are happy to receive a single bill, they can join the plan.
  • One of the sharer devices is the leader.
    The leader is given a data allowance. Everyone else on the plan – let’s call them ‘sharers’ divide that data allowance between them. The leader device owner takes charge of the bill and administering the account.
  • Expandable data sharing groups.
    You don’t have to start with the complete data sharing group. You can add additional devices at a later stage.

Comparing Phone Company Data Sharing Plans

The three main phone companies all offer mobile data sharing plans. There is a great deal of common ground between them, for example, the costs of extra data and contract length. There are also some distinct differences in the contract terms they offer.

The following table summarises some of the key points in selected shared mobile data plans.

Attention: The internal data of table “28” is corrupted!

Is a Shared Data Plan Good for Me — Weighing up the Options

Clearly there are real advantages to shared data plans. This is especially true if you regularly have data left over at the end of the month. The fact that the leading phone companies now offer data sharing plans testifies to their appeal to subscribers. It also shows they are profitable propositions.

Before you are tempted to sign on a mobile data sharing contract see if an alternative option might give you a better deal.

So what are the alternative options?

  • Take out a cheaper phone plan with a lower data allowance.
    If you often don’t use your full 2GB of mobile data you should consider a cheaper plan with a lower data allowance. Some of the smaller phone companies have attractive offers. Taking out several Amaysim Flexi Plan contracts for family members can costs less than some of the mobile data sharing plans.
  • Prepaid phones are a good data usage control option.
    If you want to limit a teenager’s mobile data use a prepaid mobile plan could be better choice than mobile data sharing. In prepaid plans you pay in advance for a certain service bundle so there are no unexpected costs to cover.

When your credit is finished you must top it up to continue using the device. With postpaid plans you pay a set amount each month for a certain service allowance, plus whatever you might owe for going over this allowance.

  • Data sharing can increase your mobile phone costs.
    Research by the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN) showed:

“If you’re sharing data across multiple devices you might find your monthly usage starts to go up. This is more than likely what the telcos are banking on by offering these products.”

  • Wi-Fi Hotspots are a cheap alternative to data sharing contracts.
    ACCAN claim that activating a WiFi hotspot on your mobile device is much cheaper than a data sharing contract. Phone companies do not charge any extra if you use your mobile device as a WiFi hotspot. This allows you to share mobile data with people in your vicinity. However, you do need to toggle the hotspots on and off manually, and enter a password so it is not always so convenient. WiFi hotspots also quickly drain the phone battery.

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.