Mobile data fair usage policy - explained
Since 2012, it is against Ofcom rules for a network or provider to advertise their plans as unlimited if they have a cap on the amount of data you can use.
Despite this, networks are still allowed to have a reasonable fair usage policy, even if they advertise an unlimited service.
Fair usage policies exist in order to stabilise the network and ensure all other customers within the area are receiving equal service and speed.
If you’re disproportionately using too much data for extended periods, other customers can be negatively affected.
If your network thinks you are using their services unfairly, you can face speed restrictions. In extreme cases and as a last resort, they may even terminate your service.
- What does unlimited data mean?
- Which networks have a fair usage policy?
- BT unlimited data fair usage
- EE unlimited data fair usage
- giffgaff unlimited data fair usage
- iD Mobile unlimited data fair usage
- Lebara unlimited data fair usage
- O2 unlimited data fair usage
- Plusnet unlimited data fair usage
- Sky Mobile unlimited data fair usage
- SMARTY unlimited data fair usage
- Talkmobile unlimited data fair usage
- Tesco Mobile unlimited data fair usage
- Three unlimited data fair usage
- Virgin Mobile unlimited data fair usage
- Vodafone unlimited data fair usage
- VOXI unlimited data fair usage
- Roaming fair usage policy
What does unlimited data mean?
The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) states that a network or provider cannot advertise their service as unlimited if there are restrictions on the amount of data you can consume.
Unlimited really should mean unlimited. There cannot be any hidden terms and conditions that try to redefine what unlimited means for you.
Any network or provider who falsely advertise as unlimited can face a hefty fine.
However, a network is allowed to advertise as unlimited and still have a fair usage policy.
Fair usage policies exist in order to ensure every customer receives an equal service. If you’re continuously using excessive data for extended periods of time, other customers near you may receive a substandard service.
Anyone breaking the fair usage policy can have their data speed restricted for short periods, but cannot have their service terminated unless they are breaking the terms and conditions of their provider or are repeat offenders. This is often rare and will only be applied in extreme circumstances.
According to net neutrality law, your provider cannot disproportionately restrict data or speed for a particular website or service. Every website and service must be treated as equal. Companies and internet providers are not allowed to agree for exclusivity when it comes to data usage. This includes restricting the speed for usage of competing companies, or paying for priority traffic.
Which networks have a fair usage policy?
A network that offers unlimited data is likely to have a fair usage policy, in order to provide an equal and fair service for all customers.
Providers can have different rules on how you are penalised if you are deemed to be breaking the fair usage policy.
Most will warn you and will restrict your data speed temporarily.
|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|
BT unlimited data fair usage
BT have stopped offering unlimited data plans for mobile. The maximum amount of data offered by BT is 100GB.
EE unlimited data fair usage
Although EE say on their website that there are no caps for unlimited data plans, the small print in the terms and conditions state that data usage above 600GB per month is considered non-personal usage, which is not permitted.
If you go over 600GB per month, EE state they have the right to implement tariff management controls, which is a fancy way of saying speed limits.
However, various reports from customers conclude that this policy is fairly relaxed, and speed limits or any other type of warnings are rarely issued for usage above 600GB.
You are only likely to face issues if you continuously abuse data usage, which results in other customers experiencing slower speeds in your local area.
For unlimited data with EE, see the best EE unlimited SIM deals.
giffgaff unlimited data fair usage
- Tether to 12 or more devices
- Use around 650GB data per month, twice within a 6 month period
- Use for business related reasons
- Use any other excessive amount
If giffgaff think you have exceeded their fair usage policy, they will contact you and warn you before taking action. If you repeatedly break the rules after a warning, they reserve the right to remove your goodybag or disconnect your SIM.
For unlimited data with giffgaff, see the best giffgaff unlimited SIM deals.
iD Mobile unlimited data fair usage
iD Mobile do not have a fair usage policy for unlimited data plans. There are also no limits when it comes to tethering to other devices.
You can only use their services for personal use only.
For unlimited data with iD Mobile, see the best iD Mobile unlimited SIM deals.
Lebara unlimited data fair usage
For unlimited data with Lebara, see the best Lebara unlimited SIM deals.
O2 unlimited data fair usage
O2 have a fair usage policy for unlimited data plans. You may be breaking the fair usage policy if you one of the following applies to you.
- Regularly tether to 12 or more devices
- Use 650GB of data twice within a 6 month period
- Connected to a device that is no eligible as stated in the clause of your contract
O2 will investigate if you exceed their definition of fair usage, and may transfer you to a plan with data restrictions.
The fair usage policy is defined in O2’s terms and conditions.
For unlimited data with O2, see the best O2 unlimited SIM deals.
Plusnet unlimited data fair usage
The maximum amount of data Plusnet offer is 32GB. They currently do not sell unlimited data plans.
Sky Mobile unlimited data fair usage
Currently, Sky Mobile do not offer any unlimited data plans, with plans at a maximum of 60GB.
SMARTY unlimited data fair usage
There are also no limits on tethering.
You must not use their network for commercial use.
For unlimited data with SMARTY, see the best SMARTY unlimited SIM deals.
Talkmobile unlimited data fair usage
The maximum amount of data Talkmobile offer is with their 100GB data plan. They currently do not sell unlimited data plans.
Tesco Mobile unlimited data fair usage
- Use you data that is inconsistent with reasonable customer behaviour
- Affect the performance of other customers due to excessive use
- Fraudulent use
- Use your SIM card for purposes other than advertised
You can use Tesco Mobile for tethering, with no limits on the amount of devices you can tether to.
For unlimited data with Tesco, see the best Tesco unlimited SIM deals.
Three unlimited data fair usage
There are also no limits when it comes to tethering.
You cannot use Three for non-personal use.
For unlimited data with Three, see the best Three unlimited SIM deals.
Virgin Mobile unlimited data fair usage
Virgin Mobile have not published a fair usage policy for data, or stated as such in their terms and conditions.
There are also no defined limitations when it comes to tethering.
For unlimited data with Virgin Mobile, see the best Virgin Mobile unlimited SIM deals.
Vodafone unlimited data fair usage
Vodafone do not have a fair usage policy for data usage.
You can also tether without restrictions.
You must use your Vodafone for personal use only.
For unlimited data with Vodafone, see the best Vodafone unlimited SIM deals.
VOXI unlimited data fair usage
VOXI do not have a specific definition of what is deemed fair usage.
However, they do state in their terms and conditions that a customer who “adversely impacts the service for other customers” can have their service suspended. They also state you cannot use their services for commercial use.
There are no limits when it comes to tethering.
For unlimited data with VOXI, see the best VOXI unlimited SIM deals.
Roaming fair usage policy
Your network may allow you to use your allowance when roaming in another country, either for free or a set price for a specific period.
However, there are often fair usage policies, specifically which apply to data when roaming.
The amount of data you can use when roaming may be less than your regular allowance, even if you have an unlimited data plan.
For example, if you’re on a plan or add-on with EE that allows you to use your data allowance abroad, the maximum you can use per month is 50GB, even if your regular plan gives you more data or unlimited data.
|Network||Roaming fair usage policy||Over allowance charges|
|BT||50GB / month||Zone 1a: 10.45p/MB, Zone 1b: 8.67p/MB|
|EE||50GB / month||£2/day to use your regular allowance (50GB max)|
|giffgaff||20GB / month||0.36p/MB|
|iD Mobile||Excessive roaming abroad for 4 consecutive months is not allowed||£0.10/MB to £2/MB - depending on location.|
|Lebara||Varies, depending on plan||-|
|O2||25GB / month||£3.50/GB|
|Plusnet||15GB / month||10p/MB (Same as UK prices)|
|Sky Mobile||No fair usage policy||Same as UK prices|
|SMARTY||12GB / month||£1/GB|
|Talkmobile||15GB / month||6p/MB|
|Tesco Mobile||Excessive usage - no definitive amount||Same as UK prices|
|Three||12GB / month||-|
|Virgin Mobile||Excessive roaming abroad for 4 consecutive months is not allowed||Same as UK prices|
|Vodafone||25GB / month||£2/day to use your regular allowance (25GB max)|
|VOXI||20GB / month||Must purchase VOXI Data Extra|
Read our article on roaming after Brexit for more information.
Are there any download limits with unlimited data?
No, unlimited really means unlimited. However, excessive usage may result in your network temporarily reducing your data speed, in order to offer a fair service for other customers.
How can I avoid breaking a fair usage policy?
Restrict the amount of data you use by limiting your time spent streaming and downloading
- Don't stream video for long periods, repeatedly
- Avoid downloading large files
- Use Wi-Fi whenever possible
- Limit the amount of devices you tether to
For more tips, see our guide on using less data.
What happens if I use too much data?
If you're on an unlimited data plan and your network thinks your data usage is excessive, they can temporarily reduce your data speed.
If your usage continually disrupts other customers, you will be warned. As a last resort, your network may terminate your service or move you to a plan with data restrictions.