There’s a lot of choice on the mobile market these days. Familiar names that have been around since the calling card era. Veteran providers still going strong. Dozens of newbie companies selling all kinds of mobile plans at competitive prices. Having options is good. So is it still worth it to pay a little extra for one of the big three providers? And which one is best? We investigate.
Ever since the retail mobile provider market was opened up to third-party entrants, prices have kept coming down. Technology has helped. With massive networks already built and internet-based technologies making cross-country and international communication cheaper than ever, the days of dollar-a-minute long-distance calls are far behind us. But all of those third-party providers rely on one of the “big three” networks – Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone.
These three companies own the physical mobile networks every other provider makes use of. So we’re basically talking about three vast networks of mobile towers, base stations, and exchanges. All trying to span the huge land mass of Australia in an attempt to get coverage out to as much of the population as possible.
Hence, you’d think that the best option would be to connect directly with one of the “big three” companies’ networks. And you’d be right, in many cases. Customers on the “big three” networks get full access to everything those networks have to offer. Meanwhile, third-party providers may be limited to certain parts of the network. That’s not usually a problem with voice calls, but can have an impact of data speeds, especially on 4G.
There’s also new tech available you’ll only find on the big three networks for the time being. For instance VoLTE, a 4G voice call system that gives you Skype-like call quality and many other benefits.
But is it viable money-wise to head for the “big three” for your mobile service? A few years ago, the answer would have been no. These days, with fierce competition in play, there’s real value to be had by going to the top of the mobile food chain. Let’s take a look at the three networks and the best of what they have to offer.
Still the biggest mobile network in Australia, veteran Telstra Mobile also has long had a reputation for being the most expensive. Until recently, anyway. Being able to boast the best coverage in the country has always been one of Telstra’s biggest goals. And they’ve succeeded – you’ll get Telstra coverage in many places the other two big providers simply can’t reach.
If you’re bringing your own phone to Telstra, you’re now spoilt for choice when it comes to plans. The one to head for if you want the best combination of price and value? The Mx plan, which can only be bought online. It also requires you to manage your account online, something most people reading this will have no problem with. At $49 per month, the Mx plan gives you unlimited calls, texts, and MMS. You can also choose to get unlimited international calls and SMS to 45 destinations for only $10/month. Telstra is really rising to the challenge set by some of the third-party providers in that department.
As for data, the Mx plan gives you 15GB a month plus 5GB bonus data, a hefty chunk of data on what is arguably the fastest 4G network right now. If you’re after a new phone, there are plenty of deals to choose from as well, all more affordable than ever.
For simply getting your smartphone onto the Telstra network, though, it’s hard to go past the BYO plans. Especially when you consider the perks. The list includes a 6 months free Apple Music subscription and data-free music streaming, data-free live sport streaming, free Telstra Air public Wi-Fi access, and more.
It’s pretty clear the big three want to compete with the rapid rise of the smart BYO-SIM third-party providers. They realised that a big part of their target audience is mostly happy with the phone they’ve got and want a better deal on a better network. Not surprisingly, Optus Mobile– with its 4G Plus network that broke speed records for data downloads before their competitors had even set theirs up – is all about the tasty offers. Their online-only offers frequently change, so it’s well worth a visit to their site. At the time of writing, Optus is offering 30GB of data on a 12-month plan for only $35 a month. This even includes 300 standard international minutes to 35 destinations.
More enticing, though, is the thought of a brand new 256GB iPhone X – which Optus has reduced in price to the point where its purchase is made easier budget-wise. For $95 a month you get the phone, 50GB of data, and free subscriptions to Optus Sport for live English Premier League (usually around $15 a month). Add data-free access to National Geographic’s Optus-exclusive app, music streaming from Google, Spotify and iHeartRadio, and one of the most desirable smartphones on the market at the moment and you’ve got yourself a pretty amazing deal.
If you’re a determined Android fan, meanwhile, the Samsung Galaxy S9 is even better value on the same plan, at $55 per month over 24 months.
Yes, they came under fire a few years ago for poor network performance. But ever since, Vodafone’s poured millions of dollars on upgrades. They now have a bunch of very happy customers enjoying a 4G network that’s being run on the very latest hardware.
If you’re arriving at the Vodafone website as a new customer (or in one of their stores) you’ll notice a strong emphasis on phone plans. Basically, they want to sell you a phone and a two-year contract to go with it. There are perks to signing on the dotted line, of course. You end up not only with a recent smartphone but also a mobile plan with unlimited calls and massive data allowances. All for a reasonable monthly price.
For example, a 64GB iPhone X with 20GB of data per month will cost you around $113 a month on a 24-month contract. That’s around 29 bucks a week for a current-model smartphone with unlimited calls, texts and more data than you could possibly use. Unless you binge several Netflix shows on the train and put a big dent in it!
If you’re bringing your own phone, Vodafone has 12-month and month-to-month plans (the month to month plans currently are mainly for students); with the 12-month plans being the sweet spot. For $35 a month you get 30GB data, $40 gets you 40GB and $60 gets you a huge 80GB. There are often double-data deals on offer, as well as student discounts and special plans for those that would rather have Qantas frequent flier points as a bonus. Vodafone’s come back in a big way.
When you’re connecting to one of the “big three” you’ll be confident you’re getting the best of what that particular network can offer. These companies don’t hold anything back for their direct customers. But choosing between them is about more than features and perks – it’s about coverage as well. If you aren’t sure what the coverage in your area from one of the providers is like, invite some friends over to give you a chance to see how each network performs in your part of Australia. In inner-city areas, you’re not going to have any worries. But the further out you get, the more coverage becomes an important factor. When you get really far from big population centres, Telstra’s more likely to have solid coverage – though both Optus and Vodafone have been making massive efforts to change that.
The odds really are in your favour right now. All three telcos want you as a customer and they’re constantly coming up with ways to entice you. So keep an eye on this site as well as the providers’ own for deals, and remember – unless you’re getting a phone, try to stay away from contracts longer than 12 months. A lot changes in a year, and prices are not going anywhere but down!
While many people will appreciate the perks and greater network access that comes from signing up with one of the “big three”, remember, there are incredible deals available with third-party providers on the same excellent networks. You can get hooked up with the Telstra, Optus or Vodafone networks without a contract for a fraction of the cost of going with even the current great deals from the big providers. And if most of your mobile usage is calls and text, that’s perhaps a better way to go. However, if coverage and data speed – as well as some first-class perks – matter to you, then give the big three another look. Because now, more than ever, they want you!