These days, the mobile phone network industry is basically a buyer’s market. High-value deals are available from a vast array of providers, all of them reselling the services of one of the big three mobile networks. Telstra, Optus and Vodafone are the companies which actually run the hardware that drives the entire mobile phone industry in Australia. It’s only natural to expect that choosing one of them for a mobile plan will get you a premium service, in quality terms at least. But which one is best? We compare Telstra and Optus to give you a better idea.
In most cases, you’d be right about the quality of the service provided by the big three. The core providers tend to reserve full access to their network and its features for their own customers. In the past, your choice of mobile providers used to come down to a simple question. “Do I want to pay a premium price for a premium service?”
But as mobile technology’s gotten better, faster, and cheaper, the difference between a “budget” and “premium” service has gotten smaller. However, it’s still there. And now, alongside the boring technical stuff – better network access and features, wider coverage and so on – the big providers are trying to keep their customers around with some extra-value sweeteners. Plus, they’re also offering competitive pricing on their best prepaid plans.
Back in the day, let’s say you didn’t want to go down the fixed-term contract route for your mobile service. But you wanted the reliability and quality of access to one of the big two – Telstra and Optus. If that was the case, you had to accept that you’d be paying through the nose for your calls and texts. Not only that, but you would likely get minimal data access. Plus, you’d miss out on many of the network features that post-paid customers got.
That’s no longer case. Both Telstra and Optus are keen to grab their share of the millions of prepaid customers flocking to third-party providers using their networks. So they’ve made adjustments to their prepaid plans.
They’re now offering large data caps, generous call inclusions, access to the full array of network features. You also get some tasty bonus offers when you port your number from another provider. Prepaid has become a more competitive market than contracted post-paid. That’s mainly because customers are never tied down to a particular provider and can switch any time without penalty.
So before you dismiss Telstra and Optus as “too expensive”, take another look. Arguably the best value balance between features, functionality, and cost can be had directly from the two giant companies.
Let’s take a look at a couple of examples of what’s on offer.
Not to be outdone in the world of music, Telstra prepaid plans also offer song streaming that doesn’t count against your mobile data allowance across all plans. But in Telstra’s case, the free data is for Apple Music customers. That choice between Apple Music and Spotify may sway people to one provider or the other – after all, you want to go where your playlists are – but Telstra prepaid plans have competitiveness in store outside of music streaming. In other words, there are some great Telstra deals to be had.
The sweet-spot plan is very similar to Optus’, and at the same price. A $40 recharge gives you 5GB of data to use, with unlimited national calls and text, as well as unlimited calls to the “big ten” international destinations. You also get $10 of credit towards usage that falls outside of inclusions – whether that be premium SMS, international calls to other countries, international texts or similar. For any unused data, that can be rolled over to the following recharge, too.
Telstra prepaid users also get access to Telstra Air Wi-Fi hotpots around the country, along with millions of Fon wi-fi hotspots around the world. Brilliant for when you’re travelling and need to stay in touch with loved ones from home.
Last audited 16 September 2020
With a range of nine different tiers of prepaid recharge options, Optus has expanded their offerings massively compared to even a couple of years ago. Moreover, they’ve added some desirable extras into the mix. For instance, you get unlimited music streaming from three services – Google Play, iHeartRadio, and the big one, Spotify (note, though, that the “unlimited” refers to your mobile data usage, and you’ll still need to pay for a subscription to access those services’ premium features).
There are two Optus mobile plans here, in particular, that stand out as a great value. A $30 recharge gets you unlimited talk and text within Australia, along with 10GB of data. For $40 you can double that data allowance to 20GB and get unlimited standard calls to 15 countries thrown in. Thus, which one you choose will depend mostly on whether you make calls to overseas destinations regularly.
The value gets better, too, thanks to what we can best describe as “rolling data rollover”. As long as you recharge before the 28 day expiry, you roll over any unused data to that next period. You can keep rolling it over up to a limit of a huge 50GB. And because you’re not locked into a particular plan, you can easily pick the recharge you need each month to keep yourself all topped up with data. You can also turn free international calls on or off as you need them.
The competition – on the same networks
Is it worth checking out other providers that use the Telstra and Optus networks to see if they can provide a sweeter deal? Absolutely! And there’s some incredible deals available from providers like amaysim, for example. They can offer unlimited talk and text, 40GB of data, unlimited calls to the big ten international countries – and five hours of calls to 22 extra international countries – for $50.
The point of difference with many of the third-party providers is often in the international call inclusions. That makes them great choices for those with family or friends living or holidaying overseas. But that value can come with a penalty. In many cases, these providers won’t have access to the full capacity of their host network, with Optus and Telstra reserving a big chunk of it for their own customers. That can make a difference to the quality of coverage and can affect your maximum data download speeds.
It’s all about weighing up what matters most to you. If coverage and speed are of primary importance, going with Telstra or Optus directly can give you a technical edge. But do compare prepaid plans from all providersto find the exact match for what you need.
Which is the best network – Telstra or Optus?
That’s a hard question to answer definitively. It depends on a lot of factors, especially where in the city or country you are. Both companies have spent a lot of money expanding and optimising their networks since the arrival of 4G. Early tests by reviewers showed the Optus 4G network to have the edge when it came to raw download speed. Telstra’s own 4G network, though, has risen to the challenge. Users are now reporting data speeds three times that of the fastest NBN connection. On the same note, Telstra has traditionally had the advantage in coverage terms, but Optus is closing that gap. In a good coverage area, either network will serve you well.
Can I keep my number if I switch providers?
Indeed you can! What’s known as mobile number portability is now a requirement for providers in Australia. Your number can be switched to whichever telco you choose incredibly quickly. Usually within minutes, though sometimes it can take a little longer. You no longer need to deal with having a new mobile number (and letting everyone know what it is) unless you choose to.
How can I get on the Telstra or Optus networks and save money?
With a huge amount of third-party providers using the Telstra and Optus networks to power their services, you can pick and choose from a huge range of prepaid plans. Many of these are tailored to specific usage types, such as international callers.
But as we mentioned above, know that being on one of the two big networks is not always the same as having full access to it. Your service may only be able to use certain parts of the network, leading to slower data speeds and the increased possibility of congestion. The good news is that both Optus and Telstra have become seriously competitive with their pricing on their own prepaid plans. And since there’s no contract to worry about, you can easily road-test them to see the difference for yourself. Yay!