Yo Vodafone! 15MB per day is not an ‘unlimited data’ plan

I don’t usually write about commercial products or services here on Strange Attractor, unless they are really, really good or really, really bad. This would be a case of the latter, at least in terms of honesty regarding terms and conditions.

I’ve been a Vodafone pay-as-you-go customer since I moved to the UK four years ago, mostly because when I came here, Voda was the only company I could find with international roaming on PAYG. I also didn’t know how long I would be in the UK and so I didn’t want to get locked into an 18- to 24-month contract. Besides, I don’t really use my phone to make calls much. In the UK, unlike in the US, you only pay for calls you make so if people called me, I don’t have to pay for those minutes. Instead, I text people, and I could get 70 texts a month for about £5 plus all the calls I ever made for £10 a month all in. Up until recently (although their website says different things on the tarriffs), Vodafone also would sell PAYG customers 15MB of data a day for a £1, which was generally reasonable for the amount of data I was using. It made economic sense, and it fit with the way I used my phone.

However, since I’m relatively settled here in the UK and have an Nokia N82 with a lot of data services, I decided to look into their new SIM-only plans. I don’t need a new phone. I also noticed that my PAYG credit was disappearing surprisingly quickly, even though I wasn’t making more calls. I spent a goodly amount of time clicking around on my account on the Vodafone site trying to determine where my credit was going, but Voda doesn’t actually seem to let me in on the secret of how I’m spending my PAYG credit. It might be buried in the website somewhere, but there isn’t anything in My Account that says, ‘See your latest bill’ or latest usage. I was none the wiser. I can only guess that I must have been going over the 15MB limit so a £2 per megabyte charge kicks in. Ouch.

Still, I was paying about £15 a month for text, calls and data, and with a new £7.50 monthly data plan for pay pay monthly customers, it looked like I could get ‘unlimited data’. Of course with any of these things, there is the fine print. ‘Unlimited data’ actually doesn’t mean unlimited in any traditional definition of the term, which isn’t surprising. In the UK, most of the broadband plans are capped at 5 to 8 GB a month. Like many others, the Voda ‘unlimited’ data plan has a ‘fair use limit’. But what exactly is this ‘fair use’ limit?

For £1 a day you get unlimited data access in the UK only, subject to a fair use limit of 15MB per day (100s of emails and web pages). If you use over 15MB a day then we may ask you to moderate your usage. If after we have asked you to moderate your usage, you fail to do so, we reserve the right to charge you for the excessive element of your usage at your price plan’s standard rate or to suspend or terminate your service in accordance with your airtime and/or price plan terms and conditions.

‘Unlimited’, to Voda, equals 450MB in a 30-day month. The chap in the Vodafone shop up the road assured me that “no one ever goes over the limit” and besides, “all of the data is compressed [using their Novarra internet service] anyway”.

What a lovely bit of thinking from 2006. Memo to Voda: People use the data plans on their phones for so much more than surfing the mobile web though your portal. My phone has a Flickr uploader. If I want to upload 15 pics from the N82’s very capable 5-megapixel camera on the road using the phones built-in uploader, I’m getting pretty close to 15 MB right there. I use Google Maps all of the time, and the N82’s GPS uses network servers to speed location-locking. Using Vodafone’s own data calculator, they reckon I’d use 1GB of data a month if I only spent 1 hour browsing the internet a day, sent and received 10 emails each day, (what planet do they live on?), download or upload 5 documents a day, downloaded 10 music tracks a month, uploaded 55 pics a month and downloaded 1 software program or system update a month.

Also, chaps, why do you call it ‘unlimited’ subject to a ‘fair use limit’ when you tell 3G data dongle users exactly how much data they get with your laptop plans: £20 for 1GB and £25 for 3GB. Why not just do that with your so-called ‘unlimited’ plan for phones? It’s not unlimited even with the ‘fair-use’ fig leaf.

This is much more than taking liberties with the English language. For the annual award for Greatest Abuse Done to the English Language in Pursuit of Profits, Voda’s lawyers seem intent on challenging the marketing departments in the landline ‘fraud-band’ industry that routinely quote speeds you would never get unless the switch was in your bathroom. Deceptive marketing practices really piss me off, and this is deceptive, which is why right after this post, I’m headed to the Advertising Standards Authority website (or the Trading Standards folks). Let’s file this one under lies, damn lies and terms & conditions.