Vodafone NZ was late to the unlimited mobile data party, but is now looking to make up time with a series of new "endless data" plans for contract or pay-monthly customers.
The idea with the new plans, set to go live at 6am today, is that you never run out of data.
But there is a catch. Once you hit a pre-set limit, your speed will be throttled back to as slow as 1.2 megabits per second. For context, a full-tilt 4G connection can hit 100 megabits per second, and 5G up to 500Mbit/s.
Vodafone says the throttled speed will still be fine for email, general web surfing, map directions or standard definition (480p) video, but not up to snuff for HD or 4K video from the likes of Netflix, or more intensive gaming or video chats.
Here's how the plans shape up:
For $40 a month, you'll get 4 gigabytes (GB) of data at maximum speed, or around enough to stream one high def movie before the throttling kicks in.
$60 will buy you 12GB of data at maximum speed.
$80 will get you 40GB and $100 will buy you 100GB at full speed.
If you bust your data limit and don't want to be throttled, you can buy another 1GB at full speed for $7 or 5GB for $25.
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All of the plans also include unlimited calls and text to NZ and Aussie numbers.
And all include the option to hotspot - that is, share your phone's mobile data with another device, such as a laptop - at no extra cost. That's quite a big deal. Unlimited plans from various contenders up to now have tended to ban hotspotting, or charge extra (Vodafone has previously sold it as a $15 a month add-on).
The throttling catch is nothing new. So-called "unlimited" mobile data plans launched by 2degrees, Spark and Vodafone have had slow-down provisions.
Vodafone's launch today expands the "endless data" concept to all a whole range of plans.
The telco previously had a single Unlimited plan (superseded by today's launch) that offered 40GB before throttling for $80 per month.
Spark is also offering 40GB of "unlimited' for $80 per month, with hotspotting a $10 add-on.
2degrees charges $85 per month for "unlimited" data and throws in hotspotting, but says a "fair use" provision applies where you can be throttled to 1Mbit/s after 40GB and that "hotspotting speeds may be reduced further during periods of network congestion".
All three offer pooled "endless" or "unlimited" data plans for business, too.
'Will force a response'
Vodafone NZ says it has seen an average 52 per cent increase in mobile data consumption year-on-year over the last three years and a large increase in customers looking for greater data limits.
"As Vodafone NZ continues its rollout of 5G throughout the country and there will be even more reasons for us to use our mobile phones. The high speeds, lower latency and greater capacity of 5G will inevitably bring a host of new applications, meaning the trends of year-on-year high growth in data usage will likely continue in future," Vodafone NZ Consumer director Carolyn Luey said.
Ecosystm principal advisor Peter Wise told the Herald, "All the mobile operators offer "max speed' plans these days, and as we've seen with fixed-broadband, as network speeds increase, over time consumers receive more and more data for the same price."
The veteran telco analyst added, "These new mobile plan data allowances from Vodafone are more generous than those of the current Spark postpaid plans, so that's likely to force a competitive response from Spark".
The inclusion of hotspotting on unlimited plans at no extra cost was "a big improvement," Wise said.
Beyond mobile, Spark and Vodafone are also competing in "fixed-wireless" or using their mobile networks rather than a landline to deliver broadband into a home. Both have recently super-sized their data caps in that area, with Spark now offering up to 600GB per month and Vodafone trialling 1000GB or 1 terabyte plans.
In this emerging battleground Spark and Vodafone are fighting each other - but also landline network operator Chorus as it seeks to defend its UFB fibre turf.