Clearly, the beneficiaries of a shared data plan would be those who regularly exceed their data allowance on a particular device.
One typical scenario is a smartphone and an iPad, used by people living in the same household, each with 1GB of data per month. If you exceed your smartphone’s data limit on a regular plan, you could be charged as much as 25c per additional megabyte – and that will add up rapidly if you’re a heavy user.
Assuming you or a family member only use the iPad for only occasional web browsing or emailing outside of the home Wi-Fi range, and have plenty of data to spare when the billing cycle renews, under a shared plan your smartphone would automatically dip into unused data from the iPad - giving you more browsing time on your phone, without any extra charges.
Data share beware
However, a shared data plan might not be worth it if your data needs are modest.
In the US, Verizon Wireless offers a shared plan with unlimited talk and text and 1GB data from $US50 a month. While this deal is comparable to Aussie prices, Verizon charges an additional monthly premium of $US40 for each smartphone that taps into the data pool, and $US10 for each tablet. These extra costs may negate any shared data savings - but with each new device added, the shared cost of the data pool is reduced and the chances of exceeding your allowance get slimmer.
So whether or not the calculations work out in your favour depends on how much data you’re using. If you’re a light user, you may find any additional device charges on a shared plan outweigh any potential savings. (Telstra declined to comment on whether shared plans would include device charges.)
A competitively priced prepaid or postpaid mobile service, such as Amaysim, offers unlimited talk and text plans including 4GB of data for $39.90 a month, and you can get a prepaid 1GB data pack for $9.90 per month. At these rates, light users may find it costs less to maintain separate accounts and increase your data cap if you run close to your data allowance each month.
When launching the revised Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code last year, the Australian Communications and Media Authority drew attention to the widespread issues around "bill shock": unexpectedly high bills, confusing mobile plans, and poor complaints handling procedures. To combat this, advertising of standard unit pricing was made mandatory in the revised code, which also banned misleading use of advertising terms such as “cap” and “unlimited”.
To the extent that telcos comply with it, consumers should be better equipped under the stronger code to choose the right data plan based on their expected level of usage, and actively manage and monitor that usage.
A shared plan would likely give heavy-use households even more wiggle room when it comes avoiding extra data charges.