What is data overage and how to avoid data overage charges?

Our mobile tariffs can be hard to understand sometimes especially when it comes to our pay monthly phone bills. We use mobile data on our 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G phones whenever we are out and about and not connected to a WiFi network. While we don’t have to keep counting every MB of data we use, exceeding our monthly data allowance can potentially lead to a bill shock. That is where data overage comes in.

Data overage is the additional data (e.g. 500 MB) you consume in any given month after having used up the data allowance included in your monthly mobile plan. You can avoid data overage charges by using utilities like data cap to control data usage or spend cap to limit any additional charges.

For example, if you have a pay monthly mobile plan that gives you 1000 minutes, 1000 texts and 5 GB of data each month, if you end up exceeding this 5 GB in any month, every MB of data you use after exceeding this limit will be considered data overage.

What happens if you go over your mobile data allowance?

If you go over your monthly mobile data allowance, your mobile operator can charge you according to their out of bundle charges specified in their pricing plans. For mobile operators in the UK, e.g. Vodafone UK or EE, you can go to their website, look under “Terms and Conditions”, and you are likely to find price plans for different tariffs. These tariffs contain information on out-of-bundle charges. For example, you can find out what rate is used for each MB of out-of-bundle data for your tariff. The other, better option is to check directly with the operator if you find the detailed price plans hard to comprehend. Some mobile operators may choose to throttle your speed, e.g. maximum speed of 100 kbps, until your monthly allowance gets renewed at the end of your monthly billing cycle. This is where spend-cap becomes very useful, which allows you to set a limit on the out of bundle charges your mobile operator can charge you. So, for example, if you set your spend cap limit to £0, then as soon as you exceed your monthly data allowance, your operator would put a stop to your data consumption (or throttle depending on the operator’s policy) until the next billing cycle.

If in any given month, you end up using all your allocated data allowance before the end of the month, you may be left with two choices:

  1. Stop using mobile data for the rest of the month and rely solely on WiFi for any data sessions in that month
  2. Or, just purchase an add-on (also known as bolt-on) from your operator to have some additional data for the rest of the month

If you choose option # 2, that will be more or less straightforward as long as your mobile operator notifies you in good time so you can purchase additional data without any downtime.

If you are more inclined towards option # 1, then there may be some further scenarios. Some mobile operators make it easier by simply stopping your mobile data usage once you have reached your limits and presenting you with options on what to do next. But some operators don’t do this by default and let you decide whether you want to stop using any additional data through data capping. If your operator doesn’t stop your data usage once you have reached your limits and don’t have data capping, you will likely go over your data limit, which will incur data overage charges. Mobile operators charge for data overage at different rates depending on each operator as well as your tariff. As a user of mobile services, it is a good idea to be aware of these charges to avoid a bill shock.

What uses up data on your phone?

If your mobile phone is not connected to a WiFi network, then all services that require internet, e.g. web browsing on the phone, using Facebook, watching YouTube, using WhatsApp, sending iMessages, creating mobile hotspots etc. will be subject to mobile data consumption. It means all of these services will consume your mobile data. The exception is if your mobile operator has zero-rated any of these services for you, e.g. if all WhatsApp calls are included in your tariff. In addition, many apps on mobile phones usually require frequent updates that are data-intensive. Unless you have set up your phone to do such updates on WiFi, the updates can consume your mobile data.

How do you avoid data overage charges?

The best way to avoid data overage charges is to be proactive about your data plan. It doesn’t mean that you should keep counting every single MB or GB of data, but you can make use of the utilities that mobile operators already provide. Two such utilities are data cap, and spend cap can allow you to set limits on your consumption. Data cap allows you to set a limit on the maximum monthly mobile data allowance, and as soon as you exceed that limit, your mobile data will stop. Of course, you will still be able to use WiFi data. The other option is to set a spend cap that allows you to put a monetary limit on the out of bundle charges you allow your mobile operator to charge you if you exceed your monthly allowance. If you set the spend cap to zero (e.g. £0 or $0 or €0 or whatever currency is relevant), then your mobile operator will stop that service for you until the monthly allowance renews. Please look at this detailed post on spend cap and data cap to learn exactly how they work.

Here are some helpful downloads

Thank you for reading this post, I hope it helped you in developing a better understanding of cellular networks. Sometimes, we need some extra support, especially when preparing for a new job, studying a new topic, or maybe just buying a new phone. Whatever you are trying to do, here are some downloads that can help you:

Students & fresh graduates: If you are just starting, the complexity of the cellular industry can be a bit overwhelming. But don’t worry, I have created this FREE ebook so you can familiarise yourself with the basics like 3G, 4G etc. As a next step, check out the latest edition of the same ebook with more details on 4G & 5G networks with diagrams. You can then read Mobile Networks Made Easy, which explains the network nodes, e.g., BTS, MSC, GGSN etc.

Professionals: If you are an experienced professional but new to mobile communications, it may seem hard to compete with someone who has a decade of experience in the cellular industry. But not everyone who works in this industry is always up to date on the bigger picture and the challenges considering how quickly the industry evolves. The bigger picture comes from experience, which is why I’ve carefully put together a few slides to get you started in no time. So if you work in sales, marketing, product, project or any other area of business where you need a high-level view, Introduction to Mobile Communications can give you a quick start. Also, here are some templates to help you prepare your own slides on the product overview and product roadmap.

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