T-Mobile UK Re-Introduces Unlimited Data, Betting Few Will Gulp It All


Credit: Shutterstock / Yuri Arcurs

T-Mobile in the UK today announced “The Full Monty,” a group of mobile plans offering unlimited voice, texts and data, without any fair-use restrictions. While other carriers are looking to restrict data use they claim costs too much to carry, T-Mobile’s groundbreaking offer appears like a sacrifice on margin to gain market share. But is it?

Maybe not: Almost exactly a year ago, T-Mobile UK was (ironically!) the subject of a backlash when it suddenly informed its customers that it would be changing the caps on its data usage and putting them down to 500MB from 3GB.

In the event, it ended up partly reversing that policy after a lot of public outcry. But not before revealing an interesting fact: most people on its network, it said, didn’t use more than 200MB in a month.

Mobile data consumption — the thing that gives carriers a margin headache these days — is definitely on the rise as more people take up smartphones. Similarly, mobile data consumption per user is also on the rise as those consumers get bombarded with more apps, more rich-media ads, and more interesting mobile internet sites.

But for the majority of people, mobile data use is perhaps not rising as drastically as multiple, unlimited gigabyte allowances would have you believe:

Ben Fritsch, head of propositions for T-Mobile UK, puts the amount of mobile data usage growth over the last year for his network at “over 250 percent”. More specifically, research published by Nielsen in the U.S. last month showed that mobile data usage over one year grew between 91 percent and 256 percent, depending on the age group. If you apply those numbers to 200MB and assume that the UK is following similar growth as the U.S., data usage has grown to between 290MB and 450MB used per month.

Cisco (NSDQ: CSCO) meanwhile projects that the average UK user will consume just over 4GB in mobile data by 2015, but as of the end of 2010 that figure was less than 300MB.

So although T-Mobile could be giving out an unlimited offer, it may well be banking on the premise that people will not be using it as nearly much as they could.

There is a caveat to this, but again only for the most pro-active of consumers: T-Mobile will let people tether other devices to the same connection to share the data love. Consuming a video on a tethered laptop or tablet could see that data spike go up significantly higher for those who are happy to do this via a 3G data connection.

The Full Monty tariffs range in price between £36 and £61 ($56 and $96) per month on 48-month deals, and give users a range of phones along with them, including some of the market’s current bestsellers like the iPhone 4S. That puts the Full Monty on the pricer range of the tariff spectrum — for example when you compare them to those offered by Orange UK, which shares network with T-Mobile in the Everything Everywhere JV in the UK, which combined is currently the country’s largest operator. Phone tariffs that include some allowance for 3G mobile data sell for as low as £10 per month in the UK.

The Full Monty tariffs also include unlimited calls and unlimited texts, with the higher-priced options also blowing off a 2,000-minute cap to mobile numbers on other networks. But all of them also have a number of exceptions in small print. “Calls to 08 (including 0870) or 070 numbers are premium rate numbers and excluded from your inclusive allowances,” T-Mobile writes. Plus, “Calls to 0800, 0808, 0845 and other 08 numbers cost 40p/min,” and: “Picture messages are not included within the allowance.” And international numbers, of course, would also be charged at a higher rate, as would roaming calls and data.

The other important thing to point out here is that while T-Mobile is getting some publicity bang for its buck in putting out an unlimited plan, it’s not a given it will be making its way to the rest of the T-Mobile footprint, including the U.S. or the rest of Europe, any time soon. When asked whether there were plans to take The Full Monty on a world tour, a spokesperson told paidContent, “Not at present.”

The point here is that while offering something “unlimited” to users can appear very generous and very competitive, it’s always worth checking how much you actually use your phone, and where, before forking out for an unlimited, and actually quite premium-priced, plan. It looks like it’s a calculation that T-Mobile has made quite keenly itself.

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