News & Current Affairs
05 March 2015
Virgin Mobile introduces data rollover for mobile plans
Virgin Mobile has responded to a push by consumer groups and their customers to allow ever-precious mobile phone data to roll over to the next month.
Starting today, the telco will allow customers on all existing post-paid mobile plans to upgrade to new ones allowing for data rollover. Existing customers who upgrade won't have to re-sign their contract or pay extra, while new customers will get the feature enabled by default.
Virgin said it wasn't automatically enabling data rollover on existing customers' accounts because it wanted to give each Australian "the choice of switching or upgrading to a data rollover plan".
"We believe that there's been a calling for data rollover for some time," David Scribner, chief executive of Virgin Mobile, told Fairfax Media in an interview.
He said there were no caveats apart from the fact data would only rollover to the next month.
"Our rollover is monthly, so we give customers a second chance to use their data," he said.
Consumer groups Choice and the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network have both previously said that the introduction of rollover services, introduced by United States telcos T-Mobile and AT&T in December and January, should be introduced here.
While AT&T's plan allows unused data to be carried over for only one month, T-Mobile allows the rolled-over data to be stashed for up to a year.
Asked why Virgin would only allow data to rollover for one month, Mr Scribner said the company wanted to stay consistent with what it has already been offering for several years now when it comes to allowing rollover for voice and text to the next month.
"It makes sense to be consistent with that," he said.
According to Mr Scribner, internal Virgin data shows that less than one in five of its customers use all their data in any given month. But many customers occasionally exceed their data limit, with about 40 per cent breaking their data cap over a six-month period.
"We looked into it and discovered that almost half of these people would have paid nothing or at least reduced excess charges if they had data rollover," Mr Scribner said.
Asked if unlimited mobile data would ever launch in Australia, Mr Scribner said evidence elsewhere suggested it was unlikely to ever work.
"I think there's been a lot of experience in the rest of the world where unlimited data hasn't worked without [speed] throttling or some intervention," he said.
Throttling could lead to a "very poor experience" for internet users, he said, especially if they were throttled mid-way through video streaming.
"What we've found on mobiles is that people want their data, they don't want it to be throttled," Mr Scribner said, adding that Virgin previously had throttling on mobile broadband hotspots but got rid of the feature after feedback from customers indicated they instead wanted the option to either upgrade to another plan or add on extra data with a data pack.
Mr Scribner didn't believe the introduction of rollover plans would have that much of an impact on revenue from customers potentially no longer purchasing data packs when they went over their data limit, but said the company would have to see "how that plays out".
"It looks OK from a modelling point of view but it's one of those things where you have to wait until you get the customers to experience it," he said.
But at the end of the day, he said "all the modelling in the world" still wouldn't have stopped Virgin from going down the path of introducing data rollover.
"We can't ignore the customer asking for it," he said. "And 94 per cent of them said when we asked them about it that they think data rollover a fabulous thing to have."
The study, conducted by Fieldwork, involved 1059 adult Australian smartphone owners.
A spokesman for ACCAN welcomed Virgin Mobile's initiative, saying it was good for consumers.
It would see Virgin Mobile customers "getting to use data that they've actually paid for and haven't used", the spokesman said.
Virgin Mobile is the fourth largest mobile phone provider in Australia. According to AC Nielson, its market share for the quarter ending December was 6.9 per cent for in terms of postpaid plans.