How to use less data on your smartphone
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Smartphones can chew through your data allowance without you realising it. This can be because data-hungry apps are left open or simply due to default settings on your phone. It could also be due to the way your telco counts your mobile data. For more information on this, look at ACCAN's Megacharge project.
It can be very expensive if you go over your monthly data limit. Our blog post on excess mobile data charges outlines what some of the Australian telcos charge consumers for going over their data limits.
How to avoid smartphone bill shock
- Know your data allowance
This is usually measured in megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB).
- Know your billing period and extra charges
Keep track of when your monthly billing period starts and finishes. Read the Critical Information Summary (CIS) to see what extra charges you will incur by going over your data, call or text allowance. Depending on your provider, you can be charged a per megabyte charge for every megabyte you use over your data limit or you may get upgraded to an extra data package at an extra cost (for example, $10 for an extra gigabyte of data). For more information, read our excess data charges article.
Hidden costs in free apps
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Our recent research into how Australians use apps found that most of us prefer to download free apps. While some games or apps cost nothing to download on our smartphones or tablets, they often contain extra elements you can purchase within the game, known as an "in-app purchase". Increasing numbers of children are buying things within games not realising that they cost their parents real money through their iTunes, Google Play or Amazon account.
Mobile data: what you need to know
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Most smartphone plans come with a monthly data allowance, for example 500MB or 1GB (this is how much internet use you are allowed each month). If you use more than your included allowance you will be charged extra.
Can’t afford to pay your bill?
This can happen for lots of reasons: you might have lost your job, had a death in the family or suffered an illness or injury. Every provider has what is known as a "financial hardship policy" that will help you keep your service and pay off your bill over time.
ACCAN's Harship Portal is designed to help consumers by giving them information on how the telcos and other organisations can offer assistance when times get tough. Visit the portal for more information on dealing with hardship.
Questions to ask before signing a phone contract
Before you sign up for a mobile phone contract, it is important that you fully understand what is included. You should ask your provider the following questions:
Received an unexpectedly high bill?
Many phone providers have a limit on how many calls you can make, texts you can send and data you can use each month. If you go over your limit you could be charged extra fees. These fees can be very expensive and it's best to avoid going over your limit if you can. See our tip sheet: How to avoid smartphone bill shock.
How to avoid 13 number ‘bill shock’
Whether you are on prepaid or post-paid, most mobile phone providers now charge for 13 number calls out of the value included in your plan. For consumers with large or unlimited included value this will mean it is easier to avoid bill shock when calling these numbers.
Consumers on plans that do not include these calls in included value may find extra charges on their bills. Here are some tips to help you avoid big charges for 13 number calls:
Everyday money saving tips
ACCAN has put together a number of everyday money saving tips for mobile and broadband services.
1. Be aware that when service providers advertise short term savings, these may not result in long term savings.
2. Watch that your download limits on your phone and internet are not exceeded. You can do this by using your telco's app or online account.
3. Start on a low plan and monitor your usage. If you need to you can usually increase your plan without penalty but you can't always decrease it within your contract time.
What mobile services can end up costing a lot of money?
Some phone numbers and text services cost you more than you expect. Always check what numbers are included, and which ones you pay extra for.
- Premium SMS (e.g. a ringtone or weekly horoscope)
- Expensive numbers (e.g. directory services from your mobile or 1900 lines)
- Purchases from inside Apps
- Credit Transfers between friends
- Data usage (using the internet)
- "Free" Apps that have lots of advertising
More information on these services can be found on the LawStuff website.
Some providers have special deals available for people in special circumstances. Here are the ones we've heard of.
InContact is a free limited service that offers incoming calls but restricts outgoing calls. Telstra customer service, service difficulties and fault numbers can be called.
Telstra's prepaid calling card allows guests to make calls on a pre-paid basis, with the flexibility of being able to use the card from almost anywhere.
This aims to provide a phone service for people who seek shelter within emergency accommodation (one service only per property).
The program is designed to assist specific householders in maintaining access to a telephone service when difficulties arise.
CentrePay is a direct deduction facility offered by Centrelink to customers, who may choose to pay some household bills and other essential services.
Home Phone Budget offers has a line rental plan that provides a relatively lower line rental price than standard services with higher call prices. It is designed for Telstra residential customers with just one fixed line service who make very few calls.
Pre-paid or post-paid?
It's best to match your mobile phone cost with what you can afford and how much you need to use it.
If you're tossing up between a pre-paid or a post-paid plan, head to this site to see the pros and cons of each
Generally, pre-paid deals allow you to have more control over how much you spend because once your credit runs out, you can't make outgoing calls or send texts on your phone unless you pay more money. On the other hand, if you sign a post-paid contract you will have to pay excess charges once you go over your data usage and call or text limit.
If you want to compare plans, the website Whistleout is a good place to start.
What spend and usage tools are available?
The three biggest telcos have spend and usage tools to help you know how much of the different types of services you are using.
Mobile and broadband everyday money saving tips
- Be aware that when service providers advertise short term savings, these may not result in long term savings.
- Watch that your download limits on your phone and internet are not exceeded. You can do this by using your telco's app or online account.
- Start on a low plan and monitor your usage. If you need to you can usually increase your plan without penalty but you can't always decrease it within your contract time.
- It is not always necessary to change plan if you keep exceeding your limits, you may simply need to change your calling habits. For example make calls during off-peak times or free hours.
- Before signing up for a bundle deal (mobile, Internet and fixed line) consider your average usage and whether this package meets your everyday needs.