YOU can’t help but have noticed that mobile data is getting cheaper almost by the month. Where once a gigabyte or less on your monthly allowance was the norm, operators are now handing out upwards of 4BG for under a tenner, on their Sim-only plans.
There is a reason for this: it’s the beginning of a closing-down sale.
The operators themselves are not going anywhere, but the value of mobile data, like SMS texts before it, is diminishing.
This might seem a paradox, since the proliferation of mobile video services like YouTube and Netflix means we are consuming more data than ever on our phones - but it’s not necessarily the sort of data that comes in monthly packages. Instead, the country is turning slowly into a giant WiFi hotspot.
The mobile companies already use WiFi as the backbone of their data networks - so even when you aren’t hooked up to a hotspot, they will be. As of last year, more than half of data traffic was being offloaded from mobile networks on to WiFi, and that’s a figure that will keep growing, because the existing 4G network can’t cope with the demands now being made of it.
As a result, many of us in urban areas especially are using WiFi on our phones even when we think we’re using - and paying for - 4G. Many analysts believe that by 2025, WiFi will have replaced 4G and even 5G data entirely.
That means that the next generation of 5G phones, still a couple of years away, is already on its way out.
By offloading their traffic onto WiFi, mobile companies can offer more of it at potentially less cost to them - so they should be passing the savings on to you. But you will benefit from their largesse only if you shop around for a better deal.
Right now, just £9 a month will get you 4GB of data with unlimited calls and texts on the 3 network. Plusnet, a relative newcomer to the mobile arena, is offering similar deals, especially to its existing broadband customers, and other companies are not far behind.
For £20 a month, you can do away with allowances entirely with a deal from giffgaff that also doesn’t tie you to a minimum term.
A phone itself is not included in any of these deals, but if you already have one that’s out of contract, that’s not an issue. If not, there is a wealth of mid-market models available for around £150. You can buy them online and on the high street - though not usually from the mobile networks’ own shops, since Sim-free deals like these undermine their traditional business model.
Switching contracts and networks will become much easier under new rules planned by Ofcom for next year - but even now the process is perfectly manageable. Once you’ve found the deal you want, it’s a case of ringing your current company and asking them for what is known in the trade as a PAC code. You then pass that to your new provider and within 24 hours or so, your phone number will have been transferred to your new account.
Next year, you will be able to do that by text message instead - an enhancement that should spare you the sales pitch from an outgoing network that has decided it is suddenly desperate to keep your business. Tell them it’s now a buyers’ market - and you’re making the most of it.