/ Technology

‘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 Exceeding your fair usage could mean restricted use or the benefit being withdrawn from your account.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

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

I think this is the next big unfair & unlawful bank charges & will be claiming back unfair mobile charges that go over the so called unlimited deals & packages 🙁 :/

Sorry about My odd ocd traits/habbits with Caps on every word 🙁 :/

I am working on it :/

I’ve e-mailed My local Labour MP to find out why The ASA allow the word ” UNLIMITED ” be used when an mobile network is not offering real unlimited deals/packages & I’ve asked Her to write to OfCom & so on.

I’ve used moth networks from Vodafone,Virgin Mobile, 3G, BT Cellnet, Orange Mobile, Tesco PAYG Mobile, & Some on contracts & some on PAYG,

All horrible & sneaky with either mobile insurance covers/pay outs, From not offering real good deals or packages & None offering real UNLIMITED deals/packages.

Since being screwed over by Tesco PAYG Mobile, I left them going to GiffGaff.Com, But I did My research & checked them in detail so I wouldn’t get fooled again about UNLIMITED deals/packages, Bee with GiffGaff.Com for a few weeks/1-2 months & I’ve never looked back 🙂

My Mum’s joined GiffGaff.Com with Her existing mobile number, After Orange PAYG kept taking away all Her mobile credit, Claiming She’d been using Her mobile to access pictures of cars on the mobile internet, My Mum can’t access the internet on an PC with out the odd help from others, Let alone on an mobile phone :/

My Mum was left out of contact with friends & family for months on end, Now with GiffGaff.Com She can text anyone unlimited for an 30 £10 GiffGaff.Com Goody Bag, Which You can change every 30 days & Alos Emerencgy credit.

My Boyfriends joined GiffGaff.Com too, His just not got His PAC Code From Orange PAYG Mobile yet.

I’ve earned around twenty pounds in GiffGaff.Com points so far 🙂

Anne says:
29 October 2010

Not all the caps are imposed, though. I have a Vodafone unlimited texts and internet plan. I am such a prolific texter (what can I say, my partner works away a lot so we’re always texting) I do sometimes exceed the limit – and have never been charged for going over it.

Chris says:
31 October 2010

On Virgin PAYG it allows 25mb for 30p per day as I did not notice this limit when I first used it I was charged and extra £6. My own fault. But it woud be helpfull is they texed when the limit is reached.

I am with O2 and used to have a monthly contract with 600 texts included. This meant that when overseas each text that I sent used up 4 of my allowance. I now have a supposedly better deal with unlimited texts – but have received a substantial bill for recent overseas texts! So limited is better….

David says:
2 November 2010

I am currently on a monthly tariff with Vodafone using a Blackberry. Just thinking of upgrading to an iPhone but I have read many comments on the VF forums expressing concern about the data caps. I rely on e-mail and get a great service on a Blackberry tariff with no (apparent) cap but to replicate the service on an iPhone I would be looking to implement “push” e-mail and am concerned that I will end up surcharged for data. I cannot see any definite policy, so for the moment the Blackberry looks like winning the contest. Sorry iPhone, but as I cannot be sure that I will end up having to pay even more it looks like it will be a win for Blackberry for my needs, but it would be nice to see the mobile operators being forced to adopt a honest strategy, after all, they already make enough money from us humble users!

Colin says:
2 November 2010

I have ‘unlimited’ texts on my mobile contract; in fact they are limited to 3000 per month. That’s around 100 per day every day. Does anyone ever send that many? To me for all practical purposes that’s unlimited.
As for the internet, I get an allowance of 500mb, and I would love to know what that means in practical terms.

That’s not unmlimited by any means 🙁 :/

So times even if You have 3000 text messages for free, they will charge/break the terms & conditions, If they feel You texting a lot in a day :/

Brendan says:
3 November 2010

I had a very bad experience with Virgin. Not only are their “unlimited” levels very easily exceeded, but above this limit the charges increase by approximately 100 fold. So, if the 30p limit is exceeded by a factor of two, you don’t pay 60p, but more like £30!!
I wrote and complained about this highly misleading and unfair “trap” but did not get any sympathy, let alone a refund. I was told that their lawyers considered it legal. This seamed to be a deliberate attempt to mislead customers and make money. Speaking to their (usually good) Virgin customer services was useless, as they had no idea about data quantities, and continually got mixed up between a kb, mb and gb.

I do believe that they have changed their practices in the last few weeks to get rid of these unfair practices.

Jonnae says:
17 November 2010

I know what you mean, I had a similar experience with Virgin. I was on the virgin media customer’s 300 mins+300 texts and 30p/day “unlimited” internet deal which is basically pay as you go by direct debit with an airtime bundle.

One day I decided to try out mobile internet and watched 4 music videos on youtube via my mobile, a total of about 15mins of actual watchable streaming video (though it took longer to download/catch up) thinking it should be within the 25MB, 30p daily limit or if not maybe slightly over and not that expensive. I then got a bill for £176 for the resulting 111MB used, absolutely no warning, no cutting off for exceeding the limit and no sympathy at all when I phoned and emailed to complain (well at first not so much complain as try to work out what on earth had happened as I was convinced it must be a mistake). All they did was explain at length the (un)fair use policy of the (un)limited internet they advertise so enthusiastically and the technical inefficiencies of streaming data use (basically you shouldnt do it). Over the so called unlimited daily allowance of 25MB the rate goes to £2 per MB so it’s very easy to run up ridiculous amounts quickly with no warning.

I have now sacked the mobile contract and moved to PAYG with ASDA mobile who just charge 20p per MB with no silly claims and I have also cut back my Virgin media services to bare minimum so I’ll get the money back that way (and it’ll do me good not to watch so much cable TV too). I’m happy not to be dealing with them so much any more. Unfortunately it seems like everything else you have to vote with your feet these days and keep moving when the inevitable rip off starts.

On the plus side they have now changed their charges on that tariff so usage over the 25MB is charged at £1.69 flat rate which is very good but doesn’t help me now. I haven’t seen the unlimited internet 30p a day claim advertised so much recently and I think oftel or someone may have had words with them. I wonder if there is some way of claiming back retrospectively as with the unfair bank charges thing if it has indeed been proved to be unfair.

Virgin’s customer service, as you say, is generally very good – very polite and friendly but stops short of being able to do anything really useful about things like this. What they have offered me is what my old boss at work used to call a grin f**k (politely smiling while shafting you)!

John says:
3 November 2010

Why doesn’t this just fall foul of consumer protection and in particular trading standards?
Why can they desribe it as Unlimited when it is clearly not?
They couldn’t describe it as white and sell you a black one saying its all a shade of gray anyway?

Because sadly ASA, OfCom, Are WEAK & Do Not Frighten Or Scare BIG COMPANIES 🙁 :/

We need tougher WatchDogs with less fines, But more make changes.

Unlimited will never change in dictounary 🙁 :/

Sorry about My spelling 🙁 :/

Perera says:
10 November 2010

We better change the meaning of ‘Unlimited’ in the dictionary. Mobile companies are good at ripping off their customers using these kind of misleading keywords. Their customer services team cannot define the meaning of ‘unlimited’ as one would say it’s unlimited then someone else talks about their fair use policy which they do not emphasis when selling. OfCom is silly enough to allow these companies to over charge the innocent customers like this.


3 has introduced a rather brave tariff that genuinely offers unlimited data.

It’s called ‘All you can eat’ and there’s no fair use policies, no marketing tricks (honestly, we called them up and asked). You can download as much as you like at a flat rate.


“Unlimited had bad connotations,” a 3 rep told us. “Which is why 3 is branding this tariff as ‘all you can eat,’ rather than ‘unlimited.’”

3’s being quite clever here. It probably realises that it doesn’t have a large enough user base for the ‘All you can eat’ tariff to put any real strain on its network. But by offering such a tariff – which genuinely is unlimited – it puts a lot of pressure on the other big operators to change their ways.

Mark says:
11 January 2011

That’s great, but who knows how much 1GB is? I have a Blackberry and there is no way of finding out how much data you are using from the phone, you have to wait for the bill, which will be way too late. If four YouTube videos do it, it will be easy to go over without knowing.

I have a £178 virgin mobile charge at the moment on a £20/month tariff with “unlimited” texts and 1GB internet. I only know because they locked the phone because it hit a credit limit, no warning call or text when the fair use limit was breached(I assume it is texts, but dont know for sure, as BB does not have a text counter either) Virgin cant tell me until the bill is published

alan cripps says:
26 January 2011

my little girl (14 ) has just falled foul of virgins unlimited text offer ,and i now have a bill for £291 instead of £15 .when i spoke to virgin and explained it says unlimited they seemed unable to understand a basic word .i have asked them to review all of their advertising and if required will take it to court to test if unlimited should be what it says .they say on the subject of misselling that they will not mislead customers i would say this is clearly misleading. i don,t think this should be allowed to rest and wonder the best way forward someone has to stand up for the customer .

SimonH says:
29 June 2011

I’ve just had the same problem with my daughter on her Virgin 200 mins + “unlimited” texts SIM-only contract. Should be £10.21 a month, the latest bill came through at £74 due to her going about 500 texts over that limit.

I rang Customer Support and the person I spoke to was quite abrupt and told me he wasn’t going to credit back the extra fees. So I emailed someone reasonably high up in Virgin Media and explained my problem politely, they rang me back within an hour to apologise and say that when customers go over their limit the first time, Customer Support are supposed to clarify the fair use limits with them and waive the extra fees in that instance. He told me my account would be credited back with those fees.

So thumbs down for normal Customer Support, thumbs up for the Executive team (if you know how to get their attention!), but I’m afraid a huge thumbs-down for companies continuing to use the misleading term “unlimited” when that’s not what they mean, and when most customers would be perfectly happy if the package was called “200 minutes / 3000 texts” or whatever. I don’t know what they think they’re gaining by calling it unlimited.

Martine says:
15 February 2011

I have a new Blackberry 8520 on Virgin contract with “unlimited Blackberry email” and “unlimited Blackberry messenger” and “1GB mobile web”.
I would like to know if the “1GB mobile web” is for using BBM and BB email?
Customer servcies give different information at different times.
One said the 1GB mobile web is used for all BB data services.
Another said there is a separate BB internet which is extra to the 1GB mobile web in my contract – he said the 2 internet services are included in my contract.
Hopefully someone here can explain to me and thank you in advance for any help.

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

Thanks for that, but every company offering products and services be honest too.

What is the point in having the Advertising Standards Authority when dishonesty and misrepresentation are so common.