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Vodafone reverses social media and megabyte charging decisions

  • Changes would have severely decreased value of data plans
  • Public outcry led to reversal
  • More changes to be expected?
Written by Adam Wajnberg

In a move dubbed ‘Vodafix’ (no doubt an attempt to both recall and refudiate the ‘Vodafail’ meme of 2010), Vodafone have reversed a decision made earlier this month to switch to per megabyte data counting and eliminating free social media data allowances, following customer backlash.


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Free Social to remain Free

           free social netowkring

The proposed changes were to take place from February 13. For the last 12 months, Vodafone (along with Optus and its wholesale customers) were offering unmetered access to Facebook, eBay, Twitter, LinkedIN and MySpace, which was really never a huge threat to them. Data is sipped from these applications/websites as they primarily offer text, pictures and only occasionally video. More to the point, social networks are renowned for being ‘peering friendly’, allowing direct access from service provider to server without middlemen in between (Facebook is particularly renowned for being a ‘peering slut’). This ‘for the good of the web’ ethos doubtlessly gives even mobile service providers some scope to allow unfettered access.

But with the realization that all of these services are starting to offer more data hungry services (particularly embedded video) and that people use Facebook albums as a form of cloud storage for photos, it seems like Vodafone wanted out. But it’s hard to start charging for something that people have grown accustomed to not paying for, so so much for that idea.

Per Megabyte Charging

Of much greater concern for all was the decision to change from per-kilobyte charging to per megabyte. That’s a huge leap that seems to have no real purpose but to extract cash from people.

Mobile data doesn’t quite work like your broadband connection at home (unless you use a mobile broadband connection at home). You’re not just constantly connected to the internet – because mobile spectrum is so limited when compared to the capacity of a fixed line connection, mobile data apps and browsers work in sessions. When you close your browser or your app with live data, the session stops, and will only start back up again when you initiate it.

This is actually done in your favour. It stops your data from being sipped away while you’re not using it, and prevents the battery on your phone from draining too quickly. If your carrier is only charging per kilobyte (a very small unit of data) then it might look like this:

1.       Open up ‘Cricket 2013’ app

2.       Check table, latest scores and upcoming matches. Total data – 238 KB

3.       Close app

4.       Open e-mail

5.       Download 5 new messages. Total data 509 KB

6.       Turn phone to standby and get back to work. Total data consumed= 747 KB

With per megabyte charging, that would have been tallied up a 2 megabytes of data- nearly three times what was consumed, because both the email app and cricket app might initiate their own data session.

So its hard to see that move as anything other than a naked grab for cash. There are legitimate reasons for it- it is cheaper for the operator to use whole numbers that way, and this is why many MVNOs (mobile phone and data providers using wholesale connections from a full carrier) offer huge data allowances while metering data in 100KB chunks. The 100 KB chunk is to accommodate cheaper operating costs; the big data allowance is to protect the customer from otherwise overspending.

But Vodafone, along with the other full carriers Optus and Telstra, have been slowly chipping away at the amount of data on offer, making moves like this a double whammy. This is all in response to their own attempts to convince people that mobile broadband and mobile data were adequate alternatives to Cable and ADSL connections over the years. People responded, and now about half of all broadband connections in Australia are made over a mobile link. As a result, all of the major networks have had to rapidly upgrade their equipment to meet demand – and they’re still finding it hard to do so. Vodafone, of course, had the most spectacular collapse in the face of increasing mobile demand in 2010, leading to a loss of 25% of their customers in the last 2 and a half years.

So what to do?

Vodafone has reversed their decision in the name of massive customer outcry, but it’s obvious that they do not right now have the means to meet the huge demands for mobile data and speed that its customers are making. So expect that they will find another means to limit data in the short term, as they continue improving their network (including a 4G rollout from April, which will ease some traffic onto new hardware in metro areas).

In the long term, all providers will need to build more towers and string fibre to those towers to handle the backhaul (right now, many providers use microwave relay for their towers, which is basically radio serving radio). But a growing awareness on the limitations of mobile broadband, coupled with the rollout of the NBN should help get people back into the ‘big data at home on a fixed line…little bitty data while out on a mobile’ mindset, which is exactly how the technology works.


If you’re not  on a contract, you may want to consider switching to a SIM-only plan provided by Amaysim (1300 302 942) or Dodo (1300 136 793). Both of these plans are $40 a month, and come with unlimited calls, text and 4GB of data (5GB for Dodo).

For further details or to make an enquiry, please call us on 1300 106 571!


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