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Faster, more addictive: a recipe for 4G bill shock

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THE communications regulator and consumer groups have sounded warnings on 4G smartphone bill shock after studies showed users of newer phones could double their data usage compared to 3G.

The iPhone 5 and the 4G version of the Samsung Galaxy S III are expected to drive uptake of 4G, which offers real-world download speeds that are up to four times faster than 3G.

The extra speed will make it much easier to stream music and video, activities that will burn through the average mobile data allowance much more quickly.

The type of 4G network used in Australia is known as LTE or long term evolution. Joint research by Canada's Mobidia Technology and Informa Telecoms & Media revealed LTE networks and devices were stimulating increased data usage, by up to 50 per cent in some cases.

A separate 4G study by mobile intelligence firm Validas found the addition of LTE could double consumers' data use.

In a warning this week, the Australian Communications and Media Authority said: ''Users could use more data than they're used to and may experience bill shock as a result.''

Changes in the new voluntary telco industry code will mean that from October 27, telcos will have to offer standard pricing information to make it easier for consumers to compare offers from carriers. But requirements for more detailed critical information summaries on plans will not come into effect until March 1.

The Australian Communications Consumer Action Network said people buying the iPhone 5 needed to be careful before signing a two-year contract.

''What we're seeing with the iPhone 5 plans on offer is low data inclusions at the lower end of the market, which is happening across all providers as data becomes more expensive,'' said Elise Davidson, a spokeswoman for the consumer network.

''It's tempting for consumers to sign up for a lower monthly price but be warned, if you go over your included allowance, excess data charges are notoriously punitive.''

Ms Davidson said disputes between customers and providers about excess data charges had almost tripled in the past year as customers received unexpected bills running into thousands.

The consumer network advised prospective 4G users to review their bills before picking a plan and monitor data use via tools provided by carriers. It said such tools were not real-time and merited conservative estimates.

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