Is unlimited data really unlimited?
Unlimited data doesn’t sound like an ambiguous term. If you’re signing up for an unlimited data plan, you’d expect truly unlimited data without any limits.
With unlimited data SIMs costing less than ever, the promise of unlimited data may seem too good to be true.
There was a time where some networks would intentionally mislead customers, by advertising unlimited data, but with a small asterisk in the terms and conditions that stated otherwise, with an actual fixed limit.
However, in accordance with recent Ofcom rules, a network can no longer advertise as unlimited and have restrictions on the amount of data you can use. Unlimited must mean unlimited.
Despite this, a network can still apply fair usage rules within reason, such as not allowing continuous excessive use. If a network believes you are breaking the fair usage policy and your usage is negatively affecting other customers, they can temporarily restrict your speed to unclog the network.
- How do fair usage policies apply to unlimited data?
- Which networks have fair usage policies for unlimited data?
- What happens if I break the fair usage policy with an unlimited data plan?
- What about unlimited data when roaming?
How do fair usage policies apply to unlimited data?
Recent Ofcom rules state a network cannot advertise as unlimited if they do not truly mean unlimited.
However, a network is still allowed to have a fair usage policy on the amount of data you can use.
In accordance with Ofcom, such fair usage policies must be within reason and justifiable. A network cannot mislead their customers by unfairly concealing data usage limits under the disguise of a fair usage policy.
You may be breaking the fair usually policy if a network believes you are abusing the network, or your excessive usage is negatively affecting the performance of other customers nearby.
Breaking the fair usage policy may result in your speed being temporarily restricted in order to clear the network.
However, our research has found most networks that have a fair usage policy almost never enforce it. These fair usage policies typically exist as safeguards to protect the network, and generally only apply to abusive customers who are using data for nefarious reasons.
Which networks have fair usage policies for unlimited data?
Fair usage policies for unlimited data can vary by network. Some networks don't even have a policy relating to unlimited data usage.
|Network||Unlimited data fair usage policy||Penalty|
|Asda Mobile||No fair usage policy||-|
|EE||600GB / month considered commercial usage||Speed restrictions or transfer to business plan|
|giffgaff||650GB / month, twice within 6 months||Speed restrictions or charge / MB|
|iD Mobile||No fair usage policy||-|
|Lebara||No fair usage policy||-|
|Lycamobile||No fair usage policy||-|
|O2||650GB / month, twice within 6 months||Speed restrictions or transfer to different plan|
|Sky Mobile||No fair usage policy||-|
|SMARTY||No fair usage policy||-|
|Talkmobile||No fair usage policy||-|
|Tesco Mobile||No excessive use that slows down other customers||Warning, speed restrictions or suspension|
|Three||No fair usage policy||-|
|Virgin Mobile||No fair usage policy||-|
|Vodafone||No fair usage policy||-|
|VOXI||No ‘extreme usage’ allowed||Possible suspension|
What happens if I break the fair usage policy with an unlimited data plan?
Most penalties for breaking the fair usage policy with data usage typically involve temporary speed restrictions until the end of the month.
Some networks have more extreme fair usage rules, which can state they may start charging you extra for data or suspend your contract if you continue to break the fair usage policy after being warned.
However, our research has found most networks that have a fair usage policy almost never enforce it. These fair usage policies typically exist as safeguards to protect the network from extreme cases, and generally only apply to abusive customers who are using data for nefarious reasons.
In conclusion, as long as you’re using data for legitimate purposes, nothing usually happens. At worst, you’ll get speed restrictions for a short period.
What about unlimited data when roaming?
Unlimited data doesn't apply when roaming. All networks that offer unlimited data plans have restrictions on the amount of data you can use while roaming.
The amount you can used may be fixed, or may depend on the cost of your plan.
For more information, see our guide on roaming.
Does unlimited data really mean unlimited?
Yes, in accordance with Ofcom rules, unlimited data must really mean unlimited. However, fair usage policies still apply, which can prevent excessive or abusive usage. Breaking the fair usage policy may see your speed temporarily restricted.
Where can I find cheap unlimited data SIM only deals?
You can find the cheapest unlimited data SIM only deals at CompareDial. We compare thousands of the best deals amongst all the major UK networks.
What happens if I break the fair usage policy for unlimited data?
In most cases, your speed will temporarily be restricted, usually until the end of the month.