Australians are flocking to new smartphones that are bigger, smarter and faster, but those big screens are not only more expensive to buy, they are responsible for sharp increases in monthly phone bills.
The bigger screens mean the new phones use more data for tasks like downloading a video or images than the smaller models they replace. This means consumers can use their phone in the same way but see their data usage more than double.
Foad Fadaghi, managing director of research group Telsyte, revealed to The New Daily that the larger phones often have higher resolution screens and many websites package more data to account for that.
“Larger screens use more data because adaptive resolution sites can optimise the amount of data they send,” he said.
That means if you run, for example, a YouTube video on an old iPhone 4 with a 4.5 inch screen, you will use less data than if you have upgraded to a Samsung Galaxy s6 with a 5.1 inch screen, or an iPhone 6 Plus with a 5.5 inch screen.
There are other reasons a bigger phone will use more data.
“Phones are getting much, much faster,” Mr Fadaghi said.
“There’s a usability factor with bigger phones being easier to look at for longer periods of time.
“We find that people consume more content as phones become easier to use and look at.”
There is also an awareness factor at work, with some consumers “not taking notice if they are using Wi-Fi or 3G or 4G at home”.
Mirjana Jovetic, spokeswoman for the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO), said upgrading a phone can be a trap.
“We’ve been saying ‘be careful when you upgrade you phone that you don’t find yourself using more data’.”
Data is one of the new battlegrounds in the telco wars, with the mobile networks using data deals to win customers.
“In the last 12 months average data allowances have risen by 76 per cent for the same or slightly lower costs,” Mr Fadaghi said.
Phone users aren’t keeping up with the new supply as “utilisation is up only 45 per cent. But there’s an acceleration in usage and I think it will catch up with allowances”.
Telcos, as well as increasing data allowances, are commonly “offering double data months”, he added.
The performance of telcos in the mobile area is improving. The TIO’s most recent annual report details 57,983 new complaints about mobile services in 2014-15. That was 21.1 per cent fewer than in the previous financial year.
The last time the TIO received so few complaints about mobile services was in 2007-08, before the advent of smart phones and their accompanying data usage. That year the TIO recorded 49,654 new mobile complaints.
Data remains the biggest sore point, being the target of the highest number of consumer complaints. However the TIO reported there had been a sharp decrease in complaints compared to the previous year.
“Excess data charge issues decreased 32.2 per cent to 8454,” the TIO reported.
The TIO’s Ms Jovetic said telcos send alerts telling consumers they have used 50 per cent and 80 per cent of their data allocations.
“And you can find online applications that give you data monitoring tools.”