Stung by the mobile network data mafia

Stung by the mobile network data mafia

Summary: I accidentally churned up 50MB, charging me $50 in one hour. Thankfully it could have been worse, but do you have a data charge horror story to share?


I have been with my mobile network operator, O2 UK, for more years than I care to remember. They've always been good to me in terms of pricing and coverage (unlike many of my friends here at university), and I even took out a home broadband account with them.

Last year I bought a BlackBerry Curve 8900 with the corresponding BlackBerry Unlimited tariff, allowing account holders to use more data through the obvious email and application usage without racking up unnecessarily large bills. It works well, actually.

Today, however, I received my monthly bill and saw a huge jump in what I normally spend in the average month, with £31 ($47) being spent on data in a single hour. As you can imagine, I investigated.

I spend £35 ($50) a month which lasts for 18 months, expiring October this year, and has included since 2008 a free bolt-on to allow unlimited BlackBerry service. But this is the key point: it allows unlimited, free data sent to and from a singular BlackBerry device, without taking advantage by using the device as an external modem.

As you can see below from my bill snippet, any data transferred through which can only be done from a BlackBerry device, is free. Any data transferred from a non-BlackBerry device goes through, and this will cost you. It means although you can use your BlackBerry Unlimited SIM card in a non-BlackBerry phone to make phone calls and send text messages, you must be careful of the data you use.

I didn't exactly realise this when my BlackBerry broke and was temporarily replaced by a cheap Nokia phone. I set up my Exchange email account on the device and started synchronising it. However, this goes over the air through and accesses my email account directly through IMAP, whereas BlackBerry email goes through to download from their own servers.

This was my downfall.

In the space of an hour, I had unknowingly churned up around 50MB of data; an amount I didn't even know you could do in that time-frame on a mobile connection. Had my phone been compatible with the university wireless network, I could have found some reprieve.

The terms and conditions do explain the charges of using a non-BlackBerry handset and data charges, but this is something the vast majority of people overlook. Nobody usually needs to read the fine print, that is until something goes wrong. This entire problem was my fault, though at least I can hold my hands up and accept responsibility for it.

So, there are two lessons to learn:

  • You'll only find out after being burned: you won't get any warning about the data use most likely and will unwittingly churn up the data charges without even knowing. It is the user's responsibility but the networks should put in place procedures to ensure that this and similar stories are avoided.
  • Read the terms and conditions: though they may be boring and lengthy, you will no doubt end up saving yourself from a lengthy bill by familiarising yourself with them.

Have you got a data charge horror story to share?

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, BlackBerry

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  • telcos

    the telcos always find a way to ripp you off. in most countries the
    "unlimited" plans even are actually "not at all unlimited".
  • Sync up via the puter

    If your device broke and you want to sync a new phone, wouldn't you rather do it via usb cable hooked up to your puter?
  • AT&T is the biggest offender

    AT&T's unlimited data plan is an extra $50 and you
    MUST get it if you get a smart phone. Compare
    that to Sprint which now offers a plan that gives
    you unlimited EVERYTHING (I think you get actual
    minutes for calls to LANDLINES only) for $70 a
    month. My iPhone bill is over $100 for their bare
    basic mobile and text plans.
    • Hm funny..

      People cuss and scream at Verizon Wireless for charging $29.99 for Unlimited Data on all Smartphones, 3G Multimedia Devices, and Feature phones. Sounds like a deal compared to AT&T.
      • Actually, It's The Same

        Wayne62682 is incorrect that a $50 data plan is required for smartphones; only a $30 data plan is required, which is comparable to the $29.99 data plan at Verizon. The $50 plan he's probably referencing adds unlimited texting, which is not included in the $29.99 Verizon data plan, either. Like AT&T, it costs an extra $20.

        So, really, you'd be getting hosed just the same if you were with AT&T. (Which, as a side note, always makes me laugh when I hear people talk about how much better the world will be once the iPhone is available for Verizon, when, frankly, the only difference will be by whom they will be getting screwed.)
  • RE: Stung by the mobile network data mafia

    One of the contributors was the failure of your blackberry. Mine also failed within 4 months and Vodafone had it weeks. I put my sim in my old nokia communicator but luckily didn't bother with email or the internet- a lucky escape!
    I will not bother with a Blackberry again.
    • Maybe that's their logic?

      Who knows; this could be part of a much larger,
      bigger network conspiracy...
  • RE: Stung by the mobile network data mafia

    I got bit traveling from the US to Quebec last summer. I thought that I had turned my data connectivity off, but even the few texts I sent were charged at a ludicrous rate. I came home after 10 days with an additional $96 of charges that month....ouch.

    I had looked at AT&T's international plan to add on before I left, but it would have cost about the same, once you factor in the plan charge and the additional minute and kb charges. Basically you're damned if you do and damned if you don't...
  • RE: Stung by the mobile network data mafia

    It wouldn't necessarily be all that helpful to read the terms in advance, since it's extremely difficult to put yourself into a potential future position (eg, my phone is going to fail, I'm going to be using a backup phone that's not similar to my main phone, and I'll be in a specific location using a specific network).
  • RE: Stung by the mobile network data mafia

    AT&T wireless used to charge a penny per kilobyte (works out to $10 per megabyte) for data service if you didn't have a data plan. Invariably, cell phone users occasionally hit the Internet or Media Net button on their phone accidentally and it loads a web page. This wasn't a big deal when data was a penny per kilobyte on my family plan. Each user (five of us) may have 15 or 20 cents worth of accidental data charges per month. However, AT&T changed their billing now so that the minimum data charge is $2 per megabyte instead of a penny per kilobyte. Naturally, each of the five users combined on my family plan now cost me $10 a month because of accidentally hitting the media net button instead of usually less than a dollar. I know AT&T says that for most users that the $2/MB minimum will cost them less because errant children on family plans without a data plan used to cost $10/MB. What it's actually done is increased the fees AT&T earns because of accidental keystrokes from most users that know how to control their kids. Shame on AT&T. They should give all their wireless users a free megabyte of data per month and start charging the $2/MB over that free quota. I've been with them since they started but will be switching carriers when my contract expires. What they are doing isn't illegal, just unethical. I will do business with someone else when I get the chance.
  • RE: Stung by the mobile network data mafia

    The key: READ THE TERMS OF SERVICE even for the "unlimited" plans and you will find LIMITS!