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The end of the financial year sale is upon us. It’s at this time of the year that we start to see plenty of cracking deals emerge across all sorts of products, like NBN50 and mobile phone plans.
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Mobile phones have become one of the most important ways to stay connected to work, friends, and family. So for consumers it’s a very competitive landscape to select from.
In Australia, you can simply sign up for a mobile phone plan with a provider and most will give you access to services such as phone calls, texting and mobile data to access the internet. It’s that easy. But what are the differences between the available products and services?
For a start, telco providers have different rates and charges, offer different network coverages and even deals, depending on what you sign up for. This is why doing some homework is important.
There are many factors to consider when choosing a mobile phone plan. If you know what you’re looking for, it can make it a lot easier to decide from the hundreds of options out there.
For example, think about your specific communication or entertainment needs, how often you might use a mobile phone and what level of monthly or annual charges you might be prepared to pay. Let’s get into all that a bit more.
Consider how you'll use your phone
Deciding what you want to do with your phone is the first step to working out the best plan for your mobile phone.
Do you need a lot of data to stream music or sport, or for social media? Do you talk regularly to family or friends living overseas? Knowing what features matter to you will make it easier to choose a plan that meets your needs.
Talk and text (SMS)
Most mobile phone plans include unlimited calls and messages in Australia. For international calls and messages the costs will vary between providers.
If you need to make regular international calls, or send a lot of messages to overseas numbers, you should check that the provider doesn’t charge too much for these services.
Data - how much data do I need?
Instant messaging, emails, reading news or simply scrolling on social media will all need mobile data.
It's important to choose a plan that will have the right amount of data for your monthly needs. If you get too little, some phone plans will charge high fees for using excess data. Then again, if you get too much it could go wasted at the end of the month. Try to strike a balance with your choice here.
Coverage - what network has the best coverage in Australia?
Nobody wants to get caught with patchy or incomplete service near their home or work. It's smart to check which providers offer service in your area before you commit to them.
Different providers also have better coverage in rural and remote parts of the country. This should be checked with the provider before you sign any contracts.
A big difference between the mobile networks in Australia is the coverage they provide. As an example, Telstra has the highest coverage of the three major providers - their mobile networks reach up to 99.5% of Australia’s population.
Optus and Vodafone are the runners up in terms of coverage. Optus reports that its network can reach 98.5% of Australians, while Vodafone’s network covers approximately 97% of the population.
Mobile Internet Speed 4G, 5G and more
The cellular networks called 3G, 4G and 5G are the different generations of mobile internet that your phone connects to. The kind of network that your phone can connect to will probably make the biggest difference to your mobile internet speeds.
Unlike home broadband, there should be minimal difference in the speeds offered across the board by the mobile network providers. To begin with, 4G mobile internet is the standard for a lot of Australia, and in ideal conditions this can reach up to 100Mbps in terms of speed. 4G also has a later version of the network called 4G LTE, which will get better speeds than standard 4G.
The 5G network is the latest form of mobile internet and is said to be faster than 4G. It is currently being rolled out across the country and is touted as having “superfast” mobile internet, according to a number of providers in their online descriptions of the service. However, some older phones may not be able to connect to this technology, so keep this in mind.
Lastly, 3G internet is still around but mostly widely out. It has the slowest kind of network available and won’t really be able to get up to the speeds needed for many of the latest mobile phone functions such as video streaming.
Cost of the plan
Mobile phone plans can range from cheap prepaid sim-only plans, to more expensive plans with the latest phones like the iPhone 13 or Samsung Galaxy S22.
Once you’ve covered the basics, it's time to choose a plan and provider. Besides the features of the plan, the fine print can make a huge difference to what you pay.
Don't forget to compare the contract length, the cost for the phone (if applicable), and the minimum total cost for the plan. These things will all be advertised in the Critical Information Summary (CIS) of each plan.
Postpaid Mobile Phone plan
One of the most popular kinds of mobile phone plans is a Postpaid Mobile Phone plan, that includes a phone with your plan.
You pay a provider a monthly fee for both the phone and the network services like calls and data.
These are typically under contract, meaning you’ll probably be locked into payments for 12, 24, or 36 months. Because the plan’s price includes the cost of the phone, the monthly charges are usually higher than other plans that just come with a SIM card. (And watch out for these warranty traps!)
Sometimes there are options to buy out your phone early, but this may come with cancellation fees on the contract. It’s always a good idea to check the details of the contract first, as these will differ between providers.
If you’ve already got a phone you're happy with, you can get a typically less expensive plan that only includes the network services. You can read more on Mozo's hub page for SIM-only plans.
Your main choice here is between prepaid plans, or post-paid plans, which comes down to whether you want to pay at the start of the month, or at the end of the month.
Sim only plans are usually on a month-to month basis, and most likely don’t have lock-in terms in the contracts, meaning you’re usually free to cancel at any time.
Many of these plans are on a post-paid basis. That is, plans where you pay at the end of the month. The reason for this is that it can be easier to plan around the regular monthly costs, or set up BPay or direct debit to make the process of payment easier.
One typical advantage of prepaid plans is that they tend to be cheaper and there's generally less chance of getting charged extra for using up all of your data. There can also be bonuses or deals associated with these plans for recharging with the same provider. However these will differ between providers.
Data-only SIM plans
Data only SIM plans will normally do one thing - let you connect to the mobile internet. They’re mostly used in tablets, or internet dongles and hotspots. You can put one in a phone if you really want to, but with a data only sim plan you can't make calls using the traditional cellular network.
There are three major network operators in Australia:
These are the companies that install and maintain the infrastructure that makes the whole system work. These major companies own the assets for Australia’s mobile network - things like fibre cables, mobile towers, and the communication equipment associated with that infrastructure. But while they have a lot of overlap, there are some crucial differences between the big three telcos between the services they offer, too.
Beside the major network operators, there are dozens of smaller companies (called MVNOs) that also offer phone plans. These companies don't operate their own network infrastructure like towers and lines, instead they buy network service at a wholesale price from the major networks.
Because such companies often have lower operating costs, they can generally offer competitive prices on mobile plans. Some of the most popular virtual carrier networks include:
A Critical Information Summary is a document supplied by a mobile plan provider that has all the information about the plan they are offering. It contains information about what you will pay and what you will get for your money.
The information has to be presented in the exact same way across all the mobile plan providers in Australia to help you easily compare one plan’s price and service with others.
Critical information Summarys (CIS’s) are legally required to show you:
what is included in the product, service or plan, and what is limited or excluded
the fees and charges for the product or service, even if it is a ‘free’ offer
how long the minimum contract lasts
how much it costs to use national or international roaming (mobile only)
what to do if you have a complaint.
Always make sure to check the critical information summary when deciding what sort of plan to buy.
Switching between mobile phone plans isn’t usually too difficult - but there are a few things to keep in mind.
Early termination fees
Before you pull the trigger on a new plan, check the Critical Information Summary to see if there is any fee for leaving a plan early. Some plans will charge an exit fee, as well as requiring you to pay the balance of any outstanding payments on the phone.
If you have a sim-only plan, you won’t usually be charged anything for the phone itself, but there may be small charges associated with leaving the plan.
Keeping your mobile number
Changing mobile phone numbers can be one of the more challenging consumer-related tasks to deal with in modern life. Keeping a number is much easier! When you talk to a new provider, they will usually be happy to let you stay on the same number once you’ve ended your old contract.
If you’re the kind of person who likes to change things up regularly, consider switching to a contract with a shorter term. 12 month contracts are usually costlier each month than 36-month contracts, but if you want to cancel your contract you may have to pay higher cancellation fees.
Mobile phone handsets
If your mobile phone plan includes a handset and you want to leave the contract, you usually have to buy out the phone.
Some providers let new customers trade in their phones for credit towards a new phone but again, each provider differs in these types of scenarios. Best to check ahead of time!
A sim only plan is a contract that does not include a phone. These plans usually cost less because you’re not paying for a handset at the same time. SIM only plans still include calls, SMS messages and mobile data.
Read more on our SIM-only page to find out more!
The difference between a post-paid and a prepaid mobile phone plan is when you pay for the services. Pre-paid means you pay the mobile provider up-front before you start using the features of the plan. Once you’ve used all the data or included call-time you won’t be able to use any more until you pay up again.
Post-paid means you’ll get billed at the end of the month for all the services that you’ve used. If you somehow used more data, or made more calls than was included in your plan, you may be charged extra at the end of the month.
Yes, you can keep your phone number if you change providers. Providers are required by law to let you take your new phone number with you when you leave. There are a few steps to go through when you sign up with the new provider, but it's usually fairly straightforward.
Check out our guide on how to port your mobile phone number.
Pre-paid plans mean that you pay the mobile provider up-front before you start using the features and services of the plan.
Once you’ve used all the data or included call-time you won’t be able to use any more until you pay up, or recharge the plan again.
Post-paid plans mean that you’ll get billed at the end of the month for all the services that you’ve used. If you somehow used more data, or made more calls than was included in your plan, you may be charged extra at the end of the month.
Check out Mozo's complete guide to the best mobile phone plans in Australia to find out more. Our experts have done the hard yards comparing 30 mobile phone plan providers to find out which is the best.
5G is the latest generation of mobile internet networks. It is significantly faster than 4G meaning that you’ll easily be able to stream HD video over your phone network. Find out everything you need to know about 5G in Australia!
5G in Australia will usually get speeds between 200-500 gbs, depending on which provider you have. If the speed of the network is important to you, make sure your desired plan will be able to keep up with the latest technology which is currently 5G mobile internet.
If a network has decent 4G coverage in your area it will likely have pretty standard speeds wherever you go. Network speed is also affected by the congestion in the area.
There should be a phone plan for nearly every budget. The most expensive plans will have unlimited, or extremely large data allowances, meaning you can stream a lot without much consideration. Cheaper plans will often have limitations on data use allowances but not always.
This will depend on how you and the other people on your plan use the internet. Are streaming services like Netflix or Youtube used daily through your phone? Does anyone regularly use facetime or zoom regularly? Or do you primarily use the internet to scroll through Facebook or check emails?
Consider that Netflix uses about 300MB per hour while browsing the web only requires 7GB per month. To suitably meet those basic needs, most plans with at least 30 GB should be enough. Of course if you use the internet on your phone less, you will probably be able to get away with a smaller data plan.
A SIM card is the small plastic card that goes inside your phone. It carries the information that tells your phone what mobile network to access