Australian telcos are starting to catch on to shared data plans, or bucket plans, which were first rolled out in the US by telco providers such as Verizon and AT&T. Shared data plans allow an individual or a household to share a single pool of data across multiple devices such as phones and tablets.

This is handy if you have more than one device – such as a smartphone and a tablet that you want to connect to the internet, or if you want the option of being able to share your data and phone allowance with others in your family.

In Australia, Telstra is the first telco to start offering shared data plans, while other companies such as Optus and Vodafone are considering them.

Who should share data?

People who regularly exceed their data allowance on a particular device would benefit from a shared data plan.

One typical scenario is a smartphone and a tablet, 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. 

Sharing is not always caring

While shared data plans seem like a good idea there are still a few catches. The big catch in Australia is that it only pools data, not phone and texting allowances. A shared data plan also might not be worth it for light data users. 

Telstra's Mobile Accelerate Data Share plans (based on its Everyday Connect plans) allow data sharing within up to three other data-only enabled devices like a tablet. For each additional device you need to pay an additional $10 per month for the SIM card. So, for its $70 plan with 1.5GB of data, unlimited texts and $700 worth of calls, you would pay $80 all up to have the data pooled with your tablet on the same plan.

Alternatively, you could pay much less for a competitively-priced prepaid or post-paid mobile service, such as Amaysim, with unlimited talk and text plans including 4GB of data for $39.90 a month, and a prepaid 1GB data pack for $9.90 per month. At these rates, it costs less to maintain separate accounts and increase your data cap if you run close to your data allowance each month. 

However, it doesn't mean shared data plans don't have the potential to be a good thing for consumers.

Can pooling save you money?

WhistleOut, an Australian telco comparison website, has estimated that some consumers could save hundreds of dollars over the life of their contract by combining devices into a single contract with a US-style shared data allowance.

In the US, pooling of data and phone allowances are available. On a Verizon 'Everything Plan', a family with four smartphones and a tablet could get 4GB of data with unlimited talk and text for $240 a month. There's the option to choose more or less data and up to 10 devices can be added on the one plan. However, such pricing is arguably better for heavy data users, as extra costs (the $40 monthly fee for each smartphone and $10 for tablets) may negate any shared data savings, while with each new device added, the shared cost of the data pool is reduced.