Vodafone has introduced new “unlimited data” mobile packages, promising that its customers can switch to the 12-month plans mid-contract.
However, despite insisting that there will be no ‘fair use’ limit applied to the plans, the company is now saying that if anyone’s use of the unlimited data is “excessive” it might restrict their usage of it.
The company has yet to define what an “excessive” usage limit for an “unlimited” data service is.
“If your usage is excessive to the extent that it is negatively impacting the Vodafone Network... Vodafone reserves the right to charge customers who continue in using the service where such usage has been deemed excessive, or to suspend, at its absolute discretion, modify or restrict use of the service or to disconnect you from the Vodafone network,” the company says in the terms and conditions of its new ‘unlimited’ plans.
It is unclear what the term “excessive” means in this context.
For example, a phone constantly running at an available 4G speed of 20Mbs would use 6,000GB of data per month. Currently, the top data limits for Irish mobile services in the market vary from 60GB to 80GB.
In Dublin, the average monthly home broadband usage rate is under 300GB.
It is possible that what Vodafone deems “excessive” would be much closer to 80GB or 300GB than 6,000GB.
Is this just another ‘fair use’ limit in all but name? What is the difference between ‘fair use’ and ‘excessive’? Is is possible for use of an “unlimited” service to be “excessive”?
Independent.ie has put the question to Vodafone Ireland on the issue and we will update this article if the company responds.
Vodafone also says that there are no explicit restrictions on using the ‘hotspot’ function on a phone.
This might mean that customers try to use the new plans as an alternative to broadband, especially in 5G areas. In this case, the company might deem such usage to be “excessive”.
The new ‘unlimited’ data plans all have 5G access, although Vodafone’s 5G network is still only available in parts of Irish cities.
5G speeds measure up to 700Mbs at present, with over 100Mbs expected as a commonly available speed when more phones have access to it.
Vodafone also says that its customers can use all of their unlimited data when roaming across the EU.
For non-business customers, the main deal is €45 per month for ‘best available speeds’ on the 4G or 5G networks.
A “lite” version of the plan for €35 per month offers unlimited data but capped at speeds of under 10Mbs, meaning the 5G connectivity will be irrelevant.
Both plans are discounted by €10 for the first six months of the year-long contract.
There are three different business plans, with pricing from €40 to €80 excluding Vat. The €80 plan gives customers full data roaming in the US and Canada, a rare perk.
Vodafone says that customers can switch to the new plans mid-contract, as long as their existing Vodafone contract doesn’t cost more than the unlimited data one or isn’t within a 24-month contract obligation.
Like other operators, Vodafone has come under significant pressure in recent months from low-cost, high data rivals.
Eir’s offshoot, GoMo, has amassed over 100,000 customers since its launch in October with a plan offering 80GB of data and unlimited calls for €13 per month.
Given its stance on tethering, the operator has signalled that it will not stop someone living in an area with a strong signal replacing their home broadband service with the unlimited data service, regardless of how many 4K movies or devices use the single data source.
However, it doesn’t recommend doing this.
“Vodafone recommends the use of the broadband over the mobile ‘hotspot’ function because fixed broadband connections are more reliable, built to carry more capacity than mobile connections and have a higher bandwidth to support multiple devices in a household or business,” said a company spokesperson.
“The ‘hotspot’ function is designed for personal use and works off a mobile signal which may be affected by environmental factors, whereas fixed line broadband is less likely to be affected.”