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Tips for Choosing a Mobile Plan and Service Provider

Wendy Z.
Wendy Z.Apr 14, 2020

Looking for a new mobile plan? Find out everything you need to know from network coverage and plan types, to data usage and international roaming so that you can pick the best value plan for you.


The Main Telecom Providers

Whilst there are plenty of mobile network providers offering various plans, they all use one of Australia’s three main networks: Optus, Vodafone and Telstra. All other providers lease one of these networks to offer their services.

If you spend the majority of your time in metropolitan areas, any network should offer good coverage. But if you live in a regional or rural area, it’s worth checking which provider offers the best network coverage in your area. Here’s where you can check coverage in your area:

Telstra - https://www.telstra.com.au/coverage-networks/our-coverage
Optus - https://www.optus.com.au/shop/mobile/network/coverage
Vodafone - https://www.vodafone.com.au/network/coverage-checker

All networks have 3G and 4G coverage, but if you have a 5G handset already, Telstra and Optus are currently the only two networks with 5G capability. Vodafone expects to be 5G ready in mid-2020. If you want to upgrade to a 5G compatible phone, make sure you take a look at the reviews and specifications for 5G phones here.

Mobile Virtual Network Operators

The other mobile plan providers are mobile virtual network operators, and they often tend to offer the best value for money. This is in part because they do not have any store locations, keeping costs down by operating online only.

However, if customer service is a priority and you would prefer to go into a store to speak to an assistant if you need help, one of the main network providers will suit your needs better. The main telecom providers often have various promotions and offers running throughout the year as well.


SIM-Only or SIM & Phone

There are two options when you choose a new mobile phone plan - sign up for a SIM only plan and BYO phone or bundle a SIM card and phone together. A combined SIM and mobile bundle requires monthly repayments over a contracted period of time (usually a year), covering both your SIM and the cost of your new mobile.

Choosing a SIM-only mobile plan offers you the flexibility to change your phone whenever you want and keep the cost of your phone and mobile plan separate. You can get a cheap mobile plan starting from $10 for an average 30 days, you just need to make sure you have a phone not locked to any network (or it can be locked to the carrier you intend to choose).

For expensive flagship phones, people find a bundled SIM and phone plan easier to manage and budget for. However, the overall cost of the SIM and phone together could be more expensive than buying the same phone outright and choosing a separate plan. Not all mobile plan carriers offer combined phone and SIM plans, but the three main telecom providers (Optus, Vodafone and Telstra) do.


Prepaid or Postpaid

Do you prefer to pay upfront for a set talk, text and data allowance, or do you prefer to have the ability to use your phone whenever you want even if you go over your allowance?

Prepaid plans are simple upfront plans, with expiry dates ranging from 28 days to 365 days. You never have to worry about bill shock but you do have to keep an eye on the amount of data you use for that set period of time. Otherwise if you run out of data, you’ll need to top up your account or recharge it again for access.

Postpaid plans bill you automatically each month, but if you go over your allowance you’ll also have to pay additional charges. You don’t have to worry about running out of data, but if you’re not careful you could get a very expensive bill for excess charges. Postpaid plans are often lock in contracts for long periods of time, with 12 months being the most common. They can offer great value for money as providers may reward customers (e.g. bonus data) for sticking to the same carrier for such a long period of time.


Data Usage

Most plans, including the cheapest prepaid plans now offer unlimited standard national talk & text to Australian numbers. As such, the cost of the plan is more relative to the amount of data included. So if your mobile data usage is light, there’s no need to be paying more than $10 - $20 a month when a cheap mobile plan should suffice.

Here’s a rough guide to calculate how much data you can expect to use per month:

Light Email & Web Surfing Usage Only*1 - 2 GB
Light Email & Web Surfing and Streaming Music for 30 mins per day4 - 6 GB
Light Email & Web Surfing and Streaming Video for 30 mins per day10 GB
Light Email & Web Surfing, Streaming Music for 30 mins per day and Streaming Video for 30 mins per day12 GB

*Consists of sending and receiving approximately 25 - 50 emails per day and viewing approximately 25 web pages per day.

Remember to account for additional data needed if you also use your mobile data to download content such as apps, games or movies.


International Roaming

If you’re travelling overseas and still want to use your Australian number, you’ll need to have international roaming turned on. Not all mobile network carriers offer international roaming, or they may require you to pay a deposit or bond first. Other carriers may have it automatically included and on by default, or you may have to log into your account or use the mobile app to activate it.

Beware that using your Australian mobile number for calls, texting, or any mobile data usage will be very expensive and it’s best if you’re away for an extended period of time to get a local phone number. However, receiving SMS text messages is usually free and this is useful if you need it. As a security feature, to log into your Australian bank account and make a transfer or payment you might be required to enter a code from a SMS sent to your Australian phone number - so if you need to do this whilst overseas it’s important to consider having international roaming turned on.

To view only carriers that offer international roaming, you can use the filter on our Mobile Phone Service Providers category page.


Other Perks

Some carriers offer plans with additional benefits, such as data-free streaming for music and video, bonus gifts and the ability to earn frequent flyer points. Complimentary gifts like tablets or headphones are more likely to be offered with bundled sim & phone plans.

Here are some popular perks offered by different mobile carriers. Benefits are only applicable to eligible plans.

OptusVelocity Frequent Flyer Points, Free 6 or 12 month Apple trial
TelstraFree Telstra Air Wi-Fi, Data free sports streaming, Data free music streaming of Apple Music
Kogan MobileQantas Frequent Flyer Points
Woolworths Mobile10% off your grocery shop once a month at Woolworths