Most Australians pay for their mobile phone service as part of a contract deal including a handset, typically running for 24 months. While that can help spread out the costs of buying your new phone, the inclusions on contract plans often aren’t very generous, particularly when it comes to data. Plus, if you move house or change jobs and your reception goes down the toilet, you’re stuck on a near-useless plan.
Only Telstra, Optus and Vodafone operate mobile networks in Australia, but you don’t have to buy your service through them. Mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) buy wholesale access to a mobile network then sell their own plans.
Signing up for a month-to-month plan with these providers gives you more flexibility, and often much better value. For instance, Optus’ $60-a-month contract plan includes 3GB of data, plus unlimited Australians calls and texts. Compare that with amaysim’s $39.90-a-month no-contract deal, which also runs on the Optus network. It too offers unlimited Australian calls and texts, but has a much more generous 7GB of data, plus unlimited international calls to 10 countries and international texts to 32 countries.
The price differences can be big enough that even when you add the cost of buying your phone, you end up with an equivalent or better deal. Now, for instance, Telstra will sell you a 16GB iPhone 6s on a 24-month contract with a plan offering 2.5GB of data a month for a total minimum cost of $2016. Buy the phone for about $899 and pair it with Boost’s 3GB-a-month plan for $40 a month, and you’ll spend $1859. Same network, less money, more data, and more flexibility. What’s not to like?
One thing you might not like: Some MVNOs offer access only to slower 3G networks rather than the faster 4G networks. However, this is now less common. Every MVNO using the Optus network now offers 4G. If you want Vodafone’s 4G network, TPG already has 4G plans, and Kogan Mobile says it will have 4G access to Vodafone later this year.
And from this month, you’ll have many more options using Telstra’s 4G network, which remains the most popular. Previously, only Telstra and Boost used Telstra’s 4G network, but Telstra is now selling access to other retailers. Both Woolworths Mobile and ALDImobile will offer 4G access from May. (Telstra isn’t yet selling its slightly more enhanced 4GX network through other providers, but that’s not going to be a requirement for most customers.)
You can save a lot by picking the right monthly SIM plan. An added bonus: if you spot a better deal elsewhere, you can swap to a different provider with one month’s notice. Every telco in Australia offers “number portability”, so you can switch to a different provider (or network) without having to let everyone know you have a new number.