Mobile Phone Carriers in Australia: Top Providers and Best Deals

When it comes to finding a mobile phone service to suit your exact needs in Australia, we’re spoilt for choice.

Sure, there may only be the three physical mobile networks covering the width and breadth of the country. But thanks to a very active and competitive market full of smaller providers with access to those networks, you’re able to find a suitable plan. Regardless of your budget and whether you’re a power user or just take the occasional call, there’s something for everyone.

What is a mobile carrier?

The way things are set up in Australia, there really are only three companies that can be considered actual mobile “carriers.” In other words, they provide the actual infrastructure that makes it all possible. The cell towers, the exchanges, the data centres that make seamless mobile phone use possible are all owned and operated by three companies – Telstra, Optus and Vodafone (with Optus and Vodafone collaborating on many of the physical cell towers they use).

So what about all those other mobile brands you see around? Well, they’re referred to as “MVNOs” – Mobile Virtual Network Operators. They buy access to and capacity on one of the big three networks, and then sell a mobile service to customers that’s tailored for whatever market they’re hoping to attract.

The ease with which a company can become an MVNO has led to fierce competition in the marketplace. In turn, that has led to cheaper prices across the board. Unlimited-call plans, unheard-of only a few years ago, are now commonplace. Data allowances get larger, and even perks like free overseas calls are thrown in to try to get your business. The customer is very much the winner in the modern Australian mobile market.

What is a mobile carrier?

The history of Australian mobile carriers

Mobile phone services had a slow and expensive start in Australia, and have come a long way in the three decades since. It was February 1987 when the first cellular mobile network was switched on and the first call was made. However, access to the network (run by Telecom Australia, later to become Telstra) cost $600 per year before you even made any calls. That is, if you could find anyone to call in the first place! Mobilenet, as it was known, was day one of what would become the largest mobile network in Australia.
Mobile phones had existed before that – as far back as 1981, when Telecom sold access to its “007” network. It used only three towers, and the phones were so heavy they could only be installed in a car. For most people it was like something out of a Bond movie rather than any hint of the future. The phones cost over $5000, were the size of a briefcase and weighed over 14 kilograms.
The cellular system was a big improvement, but it had the disadvantage of being easily listened in on (much to the chagrin of certain politicians). Hence, when digital networks became available a few years later, people were quick to switch over. It’s those digital networks – run by Telstra, Optus and later Vodafone – that formed the basis of the networks we use today. But technology’s come a long way since then. We now have smaller, faster and smarter phones that are basically handheld computers offering super-fast 4G data and high-quality voice.

Mobile carriers today

There’s now a choice of nearly 50 mobile providers in the Australian market. An astonishing level of consumer choice that’s made all the more appealing by the fact that they all use one of three extremely high-quality networks. Of course, you can go to one of the “big three” directly for your mobile service. And yet, millions of consumers have opted to go with one of the third-party providers – because that’s where innovation happens in terms of value.

No matter your needs, you can find a provider that will give you what you want – unlimited calls, free international calls, huge data allowances, unlimited text and video messaging, low monthly charges or long-expiry prepaid services. It’s all on offer if you search for what you need.

It took quite a few years for mobile carriers to go from being uniformly expensive to offering so much for so little. The consumer is very much the winner as a result.

Mobile carriers today

Top Mobile Providers

Easily able to boast the largest mobile network in Australia – and certainly the one with the best coverage in remote areas – Telstra is the gold standard for mobile carriers, always supporting the technologies found on the latest smartphones. Once thought of as expensive, these days they offer plans for all usage patterns and budgets, combining value with full access to their advanced 4G network.

With a strong focus on extreme value as well as access to unlimited international calls and text on certain plans, Amaysim is hugely popular for a reason – unlimited calls can cost as little as $10 a month.

Targeting those who are actively out and about on the weekend, Boost offers customers bonus generous data and unlimited calls on the Telstra 4G network.

Cheeky, irreverent and with a keen eye for value, Virgin Mobile can find you the perfect match of a brand new smartphone and a high-value plan to use it with.

With a discount for Rewards card members, Woolworths’ mobile offering becomes even better value than it already is. You can save money on buying a phone through them as well!

With an expanded new network using cutting-edge technology, Vodafone is a great choice for those after a fast, high quality mobile service with generous data limits.

Great prices, unlimited calls – and free access to their own sports streaming service included into the bargain – makes Ovo a new player to keep an eye on.

Well known for its super-cheap unlimited talk and text plans, Vaya makes use of Optus’s 4G Plus network to make sure your calls are clear and your data fast.

With plans starting at only $8/month, Moose Mobile is a worthy alternative for any budget-conscious consumer.

On top of their long experience of providing service to the most far-flung areas of the country, Southern Phone provides great data options running on the unequalled Telstra network — best of all, you can avail of them with painless no-contract deals.

What will the future bring?

Another game-changing innovation is just around the corner – 5G. Currently being tested internally by the big three networks, it’s looking likely to ramp up data access speeds so drastically that it’ll make the fastest NBN connection look like yesterday’s news.

Yet, we’re a fair way away from 5G right now – no phones on the market currently support it, after all. But when it arrives, it’s likely to shake up the industry once again. With just about everyone already offering unlimited calls and text, data limits will be an even more keenly fought point of difference than they are now. Watch this space!