If you’re looking for a new mobile plan to give you more freedom with your calls, texts and data, you’ve probably weighed up an astonishing amount of plans and offers from a range of mobile providers, both large and small. It’s tempting to just go with a plan that suits one aspect of your needs – unlimited calls, for example, or a huge data allowance – or even tasty bonuses like free Netflix. If you can resist those “impulse buy” instincts and spend some time to compare, you’re far more likely to find a plan you’re happy with both now and in the long term. Sure, it’s easy to change providers and port your number – but why go to the hassle of doing so? Choose wisely in the first place and stop thinking about whether a better deal may’ve passed you by.
We have some easy tips to get you across all those plans – we’ve weighed up the pros and cons – for you to choose the right one.
We’ve seen major improvements in Australia’s mobile phone industry in recent years. Consumers have the information they need to more easily compare mobile plans. Once complex and obscure, to rival the quarterly electricity bill, these days any advertised mobile plan has to be upfront with consumers, to a certain degree, with its big banner headlines. Providers are obliged by law to provide customers with all the relevant info in a document that’s easily viewable. Called the Critical Information Summary (CIS) it’s the place where providers reveal the detailed costs of the various services on a plan. When you’re shopping around for the right mobile plan deal, the first thing you should be looking for is the link to the CIS underneath the headline prices and features – it’ll be there.
But why, you ask, is this helpful – after all, don’t providers have to give you the essential facts up front? Well, to an extent they do – the days of plans being advertised as “unlimited” when they’re actually not are, thankfully, long gone. But listed in the CIS you’ll find the smaller costs that can, if you’re caught out, end up costing you money.
For example, do you use voicemail? It’s a service that used to be charged as an extra by most providers – and still is on some plans. If there’s a cost for voicemail – either for someone leaving you a message or you retrieving it – that’ll be listed in the CIS.
If you like sending photos or short video clips via text messaging, you should have a glance at the CIS as well – because anything other than plain text is actually sent as an MMS. Some plans that give you unlimited text messaging will still charge for each and every MMS sent – usually at quite a high price.
Do your unlimited calls include the “special” numbers you frequently call – 13, 1300 and 1800 numbers? They can turn up quietly in the CIS as exclusions that you pay extra for every time you call – and nobody wants to be waiting on hold for half an hour at a dollar per minute!
Take the time, once you’ve narrowed down the plans you’re interested in, give all these details the once-over – it doesn’t take long and could save you a packet.
Which network will you get?
There are dozens of mobile providers in Australia, but they all operate on one of the 3 networks owned by the big telcos – Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. Many providers will happily advertise which of these networks they use – if they don’t, they’ll happily tell you if you ask. There are pros and cons to each of the networks depending on your needs and location. If possible, talk to workmates and friends to see what their experiences are with the networks. Ask if there’s congestion slowing down data or causing calls to fail, or if there’s a “black spot” where getting reception on that network is difficult or impossible (it happens with all three networks, by the way).
It’s worth mentioning that while third-party providers tap into the “big three” telco networks, they don’t necessarily get access to all of that network. With modern Australian mobile networks, many different frequencies are used to transmit and receive calls and data, and modern smartphones are capable of handling all of them – often simultaneously. That means much faster data, more reliable reception and can also mean much better reception inside buildings.
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to figure out whether a provider is using part of a network, or all of it. Sometimes that detail can be found in the CIS – look for the frequency numbers. 2100 MHz is the most common and used by almost everyone (and hence can get rather crowded). If your provider makes use of the other frequencies as well – such as 700, 850 or 900 MHz – that means better reception and, on a 4G phone, potentially much faster data.
The long contract – is it worth it?
With some providers, the banner deals for BYO phone plans come with a contract commitment – usually 12 or 24 months. While that might seem completely fine – especially if it’s a deal you’ve decided you’re happy with and you’re not planning on changing providers – before locking yourself in, consider a couple of things.
Firstly, when it comes to BYO phone plans, many providers that offer their plans on contract will also offer “month by month” versions of the same plan – often at the same price. There’s likely to be minor differences – sometimes a contract will give you extra gigabytes on your data allowance and you’ll get bonuses like subscriptions to streaming services or access to event tickets. Weigh up whether the bonuses are things you really want – and if it’s worth committing to a contract when plans are often getting better and cheaper. You don’t want to be stuck paying $60 a month for a year then seeing ads offering even more for $40 with the same provider! Going month-to-month lets you swap plans whenever you like without any penalty.
Contract plans do make sense, of course, if you’re getting a new phone with the plan. The cost of the phone is factored into your monthly bill, so it’s only fair you pay for it or pay it out if you leave early. Doing the maths on phone plans can be a pain. You’ll often find that by the time you’ve seen out your 24-month contract, you may as well have bought the phone handset outright – giving you the freedom to swap plans whenever you like, or sell the phone and buy a new one. A phone plan does, though, take the sting out of that initial handset cost, so for some people a contract is the convenient way to go.
If you can avoid a contract, you’ll hold the power in your hands when it comes to saving money and meeting your call or data needs.
Unlimited isn’t always best
One final thing – while the prospect of unlimited calls seems enticing, you can often find better-value plans with a limit on the amount of calls. The provider must tell you how much a minute-long call would cost – this is usually quoted in dollars, but sometimes in minutes. If you’re just making day-to-day calls and not sitting on the phone swapping stories for hours, chances are you won’t come close to hitting your limit – after all, it’s all about text and data these days! A plan offering $800 worth of calls could mean you get to talk for 400 minutes every month – 6.5 hours. If you don’t spend that much time talking on your phone – factor it into the plans you consider. There’s no point paying extra for unlimited when you never come close to reaching the limits of the cheaper plans.
There’s so much info online to choose a plan that’s right for you. Spend a little time to absorb it. The more informed you are, the more you’ll save in the long run and be happier with the plan and provider you choose.