Is Unlimited Data Really Unlimited?

June 26, 2024

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In today’s digital age, buying a travel eSIM with unlimited data can seem like a dream come true.

But are they as limitless as they sound?

Understanding what unlimited data really means, including fair usage policies and limitations on hotspotting and tethering, is crucial before making a decision. Let’s break down the concept of unlimited data, explain fair usage policies, and help you decide if an unlimited plan is right for you. 

What is unlimited data?

With unlimited data plans, you can enjoy all your favourite apps without worrying about data limits. You can stream, browse, and socialise to your heart's content, from YouTube and Netflix to Instagram and TikTok. 

But there’s more to the story. 

Most providers implement a fair usage policy that restricts high-speed data when a certain threshold is reached. It means your speeds might slow down during peak times to maintain network stability for everyone. So, while you can technically use unlimited data, the quality and speed can vary. Throttled speeds can significantly reduce streaming quality and make everyday tasks from web browsing to downloading files frustratingly slow. Knowing these details is key to deciding if an unlimited data plan suits your needs.

What is the Fair Usage Policy (FUP)?

A fair usage policy (FUP) is designed to ensure fair sharing of network resources among users. Even with unlimited plans, there’s often a cap on high-speed data. Once you exceed this limit, your speeds may be reduced to avoid network congestion. Reading the fine print of your plan is essential to understand these limits and avoid unexpected slowdowns, ensuring you get the best service from your unlimited plan.

So what are your actual limits?

Finding the actual limits within an unlimited data plan can be tricky, as transparency varies among providers. Not all providers clearly communicate their fair usage policies and data limits. Some hide critical information in the fine print or use vague language.

Start by reading the terms and conditions of your plan. Look for mentions of data caps, throttling, or fair usage. Check your provider’s website or customer portal for detailed usage reports and alerts when you approach your high-speed data limit.

Look for providers that clearly outline their policies and data thresholds. Check online reviews and forums to see other users’ experiences. If you’re unclear, contact customer support for clarification. Being proactive helps you avoid unpleasant surprises. 

Does unlimited data include unlimited hotspotting?

Having an unlimited data plan for hotspot and tethering is important for many users. However, not all unlimited plans include unlimited hotspot usage. It can vary widely by country and carrier. Some providers will limit hotspot use to preserve network integrity. Once this limit is reached, speeds might be throttled, affecting your ability to share your connection.

In some regions, hotspotting may be entirely unavailable. Holafly, for example, offers unlimited data but hotspotting is unavailable in many countries. Reviewing your plan details and contacting your provider can clarify hotspot availability, helping you plan your data usage effectively.

Do I need unlimited data?

While an unlimited data plan might sound appealing, it might be unnecessary for your specific needs. You pay a premium for unlimited data, but what if you barely use it? To determine how much data you need when purchasing a travel eSIM, it’s helpful to review your current usage in your phone settings. Or visit our data calculator to get a quick estimate of how much data you might need for your trip.

If you mostly use your phone for maps, occasional social media updates, or checking emails, you might not need as much data as you think. On the other hand, if you plan on bingeing Netflix, streaming YouTube, and playing games online, you might want as much data as you can get your hands on.

Many destinations offer ample Wi-Fi in cafes, hotels, and public spaces, allowing you to stay connected without burning through mobile data.

Choosing a smaller data plan can often meet your needs while saving you money. So, before opting for unlimited data, consider how much you'll really use and whether a more modest plan could work just as well for your trip.

8 ways to conserve data

Whether your plan is unlimited or not, it’s wise to manage your data efficiently to avoid data outages or speed throttling. Here are eight ways to make the most of your data.

  1. Connect To Wi-Fi Whenever Possible: Connect to Wi-Fi networks in your hotel or in public places to save your mobile data.
  2. Track Your Data Usage: Regularly check your data usage through your provider’s app or website to stay within any high-speed data thresholds. Providers like Sim Local have an app you can download to track your data usage (with most plans) and even top up when you need to. 
  3. Adjust Streaming Quality: Adjust the resolution or audio quality on platforms like YouTube, Spotify, and Netflix so it uses less data when you’re not connected to Wi-Fi.
  4. Download Content for Later: Download videos, music, and podcasts while on Wi-Fi to enjoy offline without consuming mobile data.
  5. Turn Off Background Data: Disable background data for non-essential apps to prevent them from consuming data without your knowledge.
  6. Data-Saving Modes: Enable data-saving modes available on many smartphones and within certain apps (i.e. WhatsApp) to reduce data consumption.
  7. Limit Hotspots: Use your hotspot sparingly and only when necessary, as it can quickly consume your high-speed data allocation.
  8. Schedule Updates For When You’re Connected To Wi-Fi: Configure your phone to perform updates and backups only when connected to Wi-Fi.
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