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‘Unlimited’ mobile use should do what it says on the tin

Unlimited texts and unlimited web data

Don’t be fooled by claims of unlimited mobile phone internet or unlimited texts by many mobile operators. You could actually be left paying a fortune for exceeding your ‘unlimits’.

I’ve just received a text from my current mobile provider, reminding me that my unlimited mobile internet use has come to an end. From now on, my data allowance will be capped at 500MB.

You might think I’d be a tad peeved at this news – but far from it. Instead, I’m pleased that my provider is being honest about the limits it’s imposing, rather than continuing to offer a so-called ‘unlimited’ deal with a host of small-print strings attached.

Know your unlimited limits

Several mobile operators – including 3, O2 and Vodafone – have done away with false claims of unlimited mobile internet in favour of realistic usage caps. But others, I’m sad to say, have yet to see the light.

  • Orange’s ‘Panther’ tariffs offer unlimited texts and internet, but texts are restricted to 3,000 per month and mobile data to 1GB per month. Exceeding your fair usage could mean restricted use or the benefit being withdrawn from your account.
  • T-Mobile promises unlimited data on a number of its mobile deals, but has a ‘fair usage’ limit of 1GB a month. It says it won’t charge you for exceeding it, but may restrict your use ‘depending on how often you go over your amount and by how much.’
  • Tesco’s ‘unlimited’ mobile internet contracts restrict users to 500MB per month (iPhone users get 1GB). If you exceed this Tesco could impose further charges or move you to another tariff.
  • Virgin – which is otherwise highly regarded by its customers according to Which? surveys – also sets a mobile internet ‘fair usage’ limit of 1GB a month on its unlimited packages. It reserves the right to charge for exceeding this at their standard rate. The same rule applies to ‘unlimited’ calls and texts, which are restricted to 3,000 apiece per month.

Tesco, O2 and Vodafone all offer unlimited call and/or text deals to which they apply fair usage policies – but each say these will only apply if your use is ‘excessive’ or adversely affects other users. It’s not quite clear what would be deemed ‘excessive’.

Generous allowances don’t need dressing up

Why on earth do operators bother with this level of jiggery pokery? In mobile internet terms, 1GB is a hefty chunk of data and unlikely to put most prospective customers off. So why not just advertise that limit, rather than hiding it in small print.

Likewise, I can’t imagine even prolific texters being put off by an overt texting cap of 3,000 texts per month – I’d risk repetitive strain injury if I tried to send 100 texts a day.

On the other hand, even if ‘fair usage’ limits will never affect you, I think you’d have a right to be upset on principle to discover your provider engaging in false advertising.

So, mobile providers, try a little honesty and make sure your customers know their limits.

Sophie Gilbert says:
28 October 2010

Why may the word “unlimited” be legally used when what is offered is limited? This shouldn’t have to do with honesty (pah!) but with the law saying “you may not use that word unless what you offer is unlimited”.


Definition of “unlimited” in the Oxford English Dictionary: (adjective) not limited or restricted in terms of number, quantity, or extent.

Tesco Mobile Pay As You Go (PAYG) do not offer true 100% unlimited deals/packages &/or unlimited internet access mobile internet access for £2.00p a week & only offer 100 mb’s a week & there terms & conditions (t&c’s) are hidden, they are not clear & then they charge £4.00p per mega bite without any warning 🙁 :/

Its a shame there’s no reviews on Asda Mobile & Talk-Mobile,


Not forgetting the best sim card only mobile pay as you go (PAYG) network run & backed by O2/Telefónica who offer 100% true unlimited deals/packages through 30 days goody bags 🙂

Inderpendent research & reviews on GiffGaff.com at: http://reynolds1984.multiply.com/journal/item/290


Thanks very much for this and all your comments Scott – nice to have someone agree with my views on ‘unlimited’ deals so wholeheartedly.

My summaries of ‘unlimited’ policies were meant as a snapshot to get the point across rather than a comprehensive review of all tariffs. So I ‘limited’ myself to looking at the pay-monthly policies for a range of the most popular providers. Always good to read about the real-life experiences and recommendations of our readers to add an extra dimension.

Steven says:
28 October 2010

I work for a phone network and the logic behind saying ‘unlimited’ is ecause most people don’t go near the fair use limit (a recent stay suggested that approximately 98.5% of users do not go over he allowance) and that people do not understand limits like ‘750Mb’ or ‘1GB’. That is one of the most common questions I encounter when selling, ‘How long does 500Mb give me?’

I’m not saying I agree with the networks, I often wonder what the reasons for having such a fair use policy is if 98.5% do not use anything near it. Surely it should be an internal measure rather than imposed on customers?

That said, my data allowance has a fair use policy of 750mb and I used about 850 2 months ag and 1GB last month, and nothing has been said.

Sent from my iPhone using my ‘unlimited’ data 😉


Definition of “Unlimited” in the Oxford English Dictionary: (adjective) Not limited or restricted in terms of number, quantity, or extent:

63336: Unlimited means: not limited or restricted in terms of number, quantity, or extent; eg. the oxygen supply was unlimited. It can also refer to a company.

Definition of “Unlimited” in the Oxford English Dictionary: (adjective) Not limited or restricted in terms of number, quantity, or extent.

From 118 118, 63336, 66000, 🙂 😛

You can’t have unlimited packages/deals with an fair usage policy/policies, as that’s not unlimited, its called: capped/limited 🙁 :/

I don’t thin Tesco Mobile’s unlimited mobile payg for £2.00p isn’t unmlimited & in fact it’s capped to 100 mb’s a week 🙁 :/

Orange Mobile never offered true unlimited text messages either 🙁 :/

[Hi Scott, we’ve edited your comment to remove capped up text, and the capitals at the beginning of every word. It’s a bit difficult to read! Thanks.]

Rosie P-S says:
28 October 2010

I agree with Sophie, the word ‘unlimited’ should not be used when it clearly isn’t.

Thanks for bringing this to people’s attention. I’ve just looked in to my latest Orange bill (Dolphin tariff) It appears that the reason for my slightly-higher-than-usual bill this month is because I’ve gone over my ‘data limit’ of my ‘unlimited data use package’.

But is there anything we can do about it? Can we get a refund? Can we dispute our ‘limits’? I expect not, just as I expect my ‘limit’ is in the small print…

I have heard before that ‘unlimited’ texts are capped but when I raised this with someone at Orange, they convinced me that there are no such caps on text messages. Unfortunately I don’t send 3000 texts a month to check how true this is.


I got an full refund from PAYG Tesco Mobile of £37.00p,

But if I wasn’t on PAYG, I would have got an bill in the hundreds of pounds area 🙁 :/

Tesco PAYG Mobile, said the refund was an good will gusture & not a sign of wrong/guilt 🙁 :/

I suggest you all move to GiffGaff.com, its the best thing I’ve done 🙂

Michael Lea says:
15 August 2014

That’s not entirely true, I’m a giffgaff customer and can get ‘unlimited’ data on £12, £15 and £20 price plans with varying amounts of texts and minutes, however I recently received an email from giffgaff warning me that my data usage is above and beyond the fair use policy and if I continue to exceed this cap, I will be unable to purchase such price plans in future and have to pay for calls, texts and data per unit. You just have to check what’s available on the likes of http://www.moneysavingexpert.com