Mobile phone users across the country are paying for data they’ll never use, according to a uSwitch study on phone bills. Figures collected by uSwitch show that the average UK mobile phone owner pays for 3.4GB of extra data every month – that’s data you don’t need. See below for more on the study and take a look at our top tips on how to avoid bill shock.
Are you paying for data that you don’t use?
A fear of exceeding data limits has seen phone users buying contracts that offer more data than they need. According to uSwitch, mobile customers in the UK are collectively paying for a whopping 143 million gigabytes of unused data each month. The same study says that one in five smartphone users don’t know how much data comes included in their contact, while a third of over-55s with a monthly plan don’t know how much data they’re using.
But it’s not just older smartphone users that aren’t fully clued up. uSwitch says that the average 18- to 34-year-old pays for 7.5GB of data every month but uses less than half of that (3.6GB).
Which? members on mobile data
The uSwitch findings reflect our own. We surveyed over 1,000 Which? members on mobile data to see what they knew about their phone contracts.
32% of the people we spoke to didn’t know how to keep track of their mobile data at all, and 71% of respondents admitted they didn’t know the cost of using data outside of their monthly allowance. In addition, 50% said they were concerned about receiving an unexpectedly high bill each month, and nearly a third were concerned about exceeding their bundle.
To prevent this from happening, Which? readers are going to some lengths to avoid ‘bill shock’.
Using wi-fi for calls and internet browsing is the most popular solution to avoiding bill shock, with 57% of the votes. But while this can be a good habit to get into, it’s not a great way to make the most of your mobile phone.
41% of Which? members took the more extreme route of turning mobile data off completely, while 26% prefer to stick to landline calls and 10% admitted to turning their phone off completely. One of the biggest benefits of mobile phones is their versatility, something that’s being curtailed by a fear of overpaying.
But if you’re tracking your data usage on a regular basis from your smartphone, you needn’t be concerned.
How to keep track of your data and minutes
The uSwitch survey suggests that erring on the side of caution – that is, opting for more data than you might need – is a safer proposition. But when we asked Which? readers why they hadn’t increased their contracted package, a substantial 63% said they didn’t want to increase the size of their bill. Combined with an effective way to monitor mobile data usage, this could be the best approach.
Armed with that information, you can find a mobile contract that suits you perfectly and saves you money. After all, you don’t want to be spending big on a contract that offers far more than you need it to. Our guide on how to keep track of your data and minutes tells you everything you need to know.
Are you better off with a different provider?
If you’re already adept at keeping track of your usage but still find it a struggle to manage your bills, you might be better off haggling or even switching provider.
Our recent research into customer loyalty found that two thirds of hagglers received a discount on their bill, amounting to GBP6 per month, on average. It’s especially important to haggle if your initial contract period is up: since you’ve paid off your handset at this stage, a monthly bill for usage should be considerably less. Our guide on how to haggle for the best mobile phone deal can help.
If haggling doesn’t work, it might be time to switch.
There’s often little benefit to loyalty when it comes to providers, so it’s important to shop around to make sure you’re getting a deal that’s good value and well suited to your needs.
Just as many of us are getting used to mobile-phone plans with 4G subscriptions, talk of 5G has already begun in earnest. But what does it mean for you, and will you have to shell out for an even pricier subscription? And, importantly, how can faster data speeds on mobile devices really help us?
What is 5G and why could it be important?
5G is the next generation of mobile communication for phones and other internet-connected devices, and should revolutionise the way our smart gadgets work. In other words, 5G is great for high-speed internet, but even better for the so-called ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT).
5G will be important for IoT devices, allowing them to communicate with each other at high speed, with lots of bandwidth (sending lots of data in a short amount of time) and low latency (devices taking less time to respond to one another). This is crucial for self-driving cars that, in the future, will need to communicate with road infrastructure such as traffic lights and speed-limit changes, as well as with other vehicles so cars near each other can drive safely and efficiently. This needs to happen with very little delay, and only a high-speed network like 5G can provide this.
What’s more, this high speed and low latency will bring wireless internet up to speed with wired broadband. This means people living in rural areas may eventually be less reliant on slow, fixed-line broadband, and feasibly be able to switch to a 5G network as their source for internet at home. Many people are already using 4G broadband, in fact.
5G is an overarching brand name for a whole heap of technical standards, and these are still being worked through. In other words, it’s impossible to accurately define 5G until standards have been fully agreed by the 3GPP consortium, a global body of companies with an interest in getting 5G to the masses.
How fast will 5G be versus 4G?
Depending on who you ask, the theoretical maximum download speed of 5G is between 5,000 and 100,000Mbps (megabits per second). This is between 5 and 100 times faster the current theoretical maximum speed of 4G technology (1,000Mbps).
Theoretical maximum speeds are all well and good, but in reality mobile networks are always slower than those maximums. There aren’t many places in the world right now where you’ll get speeds anywhere close to 1,000Mbps 4G, for example. Indeed, the fastest 4G networks in the UK can currently only manage an average 29Mb/s, according to our most recent data.
This is still good enough to stream HD video to your phone without interruption, but still some way short of what 4G technology can do (see graph below).
4G ‘gigabit LTE’
The next upgrade to the 4G network offers a hint of who’s in the lead when it comes to 5G and beyond. In 2017, EE showed off ‘gigabit LTE’ 4G, managing an impressive 750Mbps in London’s Wembley Stadium, and is launching a few small-scale gigabit LTE 4G connections around the UK. Only high-end phones such as the Samsung Galaxy S8 can actually make use of these speeds, though, and only if you happen to find yourself in Cardiff or London’s ‘Tech City’.
So, while the theoretical maximum speed of 5G is mind-bogglingly high, if the rate of 4G advancement is anything to go by, it’s highly unlikely that any of us will experience these sorts of speeds in the foreseeable future. Find out which cities get the best 4G signal.
When will we get 5G in the UK?
Vodafone has already started 5G tests in the UK, and EE has carried out its own 5G trials, achieving speeds of 2,800Mbps – far faster than its Wembley Stadium 4G trial. But both of these tests were purely proof of concept, and there’s still some way to go before we can expect it to be rolled out on a large scale.
Not only does the standard need to be fully agreed, but 5G will also require a huge amount of infrastructure (high-speed internet cables and mobile masts). As yet, no UK provider could even think about starting a 5G network, because none of them actually own any of the 5G spectrum. Data-spectrum portions (bands) are similar to lanes on a motorway, and each lane is owned by a different mobile provider.
Who gets which lane is decided by an auction that’s run by the telecoms regulator, Ofcom. That auction is expected to raise billions of pounds for the UK government, and should begin in the first half of 2018. Once the spectrum auction is over, and 5G standards have been finalised, the networks can start preparing in earnest to be the first company to launch a 5G network in the UK.
Should you stick with 4G?
For now, there’s no need to think about 5G.
Indeed, there’s not very much you could do with those speeds, anyway. Data-tariff limits mean the huge speeds of 5G would see you burning through your entire month’s data in a matter of seconds if you wanted to, which is hardly attractive. So, for now, it’s safe to sign up for a long-term 4G contract.
If you’re frustrated with bad broadband, whether it’s because of poor speeds or dropouts, there could be an alternative that gives you a far better service. According to the latest OpenSignal data, 4G is now available in 58% of the UK, with an average speed of 21Mbps. If you have a strong 4G signal where you live, it could be a better option than flaky broadband.
In some cases, 4G broadband presents itself as a way to cut down on bills by capping your data and skipping line rental charges altogether. In other cases, you may pay a bit more, but this could be worth it to avoid the frustration of bad broadband. We take a look at the numbers to find out the cheapest 4G broadband packages available today.
What is 4G broadband?
Instead of using fixed telephone line or cables into your home, 4G broadband uses the same signals as smartphones in order to connect to the internet.
This means a 4G-enabled device is required in order to connect you to the internet. Examples of 4G-enabled devices include smartphones, dongles (which are small USB devices that allow a limited amount of devices to connect) and routers (larger devices capable of handling many more devices and much higher usage). For more information, read our expert guide to 4G broadband
Best 4G broadband deals
We’ve taken a look at the best offers on the market, ranging from the cheapest deals to the best for data-intensive users and/or households with lots of people trying to connect.
Ultra heavy users (50GB+)
EE**2GB, GBP12p/m, GBP19.99 up front, 24-month contract 15GB, GBP23p/m, 24-month contract 50GB, GBP30.50p/m, 24-month contract 100GB, GBP75p/mor200GB, GBP100p/m,18-month contract
O22GB, GBP11p/m, 24-month contract 15GB, GBP20p/m, GBP19 up front, 24-month contract 40GB, GBP30p/m, GBP19 up front, 24-month contract n/a
Three2GB, GBP10p/m, GBP19 up front, 12-month contract 15GB,* GBP20p/m, GBP19 up front, 12-month contract 40GB,* GBP24p/m, 12-month contract n/a
Vodafone2GB, GBP11p/m, GBP20 up front, 24-month contract 15GB, GBP20p/m, 24-month contract 50GB, GBP30p/m, 24-month contract n/a
* Comes with Go Binge which allows unlimited usage of Netflix, Apple Music, Soundcloud, Deezer and TVPlayer.** EE turns off access to data when you reach your limit
Which deal is right for me?
Three has the cheapest deal currently, charging GBP19 up front and GBP10 a month for 2GB of data.
Three also offers the shortest contract at 12 months. Three also offers Go Binge (which allows unlimited Netflix and Apple Music streaming, among others) on all broadband plans over 4GB of data, so it could be your best bet if you use these services and are looking for value for money. EE is also the only major provider to offer more than 50GB of data, with 100GB for GBP75 a month or 200GB for GBP100 a month – making it the best bet for people who either have a large number of users or who engage in data-intensive activities.
However, when choosing what 4G broadband deal is best for you, there are other factors to consider in addition to the cost. For those looking for a reliable signal, EE has the most 4G coverage out of any of the major providers, making it more likely you’ll get coverage where you live. Use our Mobile phone coverage map to see what 4G coverage is like in your area
Can I try out 4G broadband?
Even if our mobile coverage map shows good 4G coverage for your area, it’s still worth finding out if 4G broadband works the way you want it to in the home.
If you’re not sure, entering in a lengthy contract could seem risky – but thankfully there are other options available. Most providers offer products on a 30-day rolling contract. These cost about the same per month, but you can expect to pay around GBP20 extra in set-up costs, which includes the router.
If a GBP40 set-up cost still seems steep, it’s also worth bearing in mind that all contracts come with a 14-day ‘cooling-off’ period, which allows you to cancel the agreement if you find that 4G broadband isn’t for you.
Looking for a better deal?