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Australia Mobile Phone Plan Buying Guide

Australia Mobile Phone Plan Buying Guide:
Written by Adam Wajnberg
Updated January 2012
07/12/2009

 

There are many issues to consider when looking for the right mobile phone plan to suit your individual needs. This Compare Mobile Plans Buying Guide will help you to focus on the primary ideas you’ll need to look at. Making the wrong choice can affect your life for up to 24 months and cost you significantly more than what you should be paying, so we’re doing our utmost to set you in the right direction.

Usage:

This is the most important element to consider when choosing a mobile phone plan. Establish your previous habits on the phone and think about:

1. How many calls do you make each month?

2. How many text messages (SMS’s) do you make each month?

3. How much internet data do you use each month?

Think about your needs, and choose a plan that safely covers all these bases.

Note: If you are planning on buying an iPhone or other ‘smart phone’ for the first time, you will probably start to use more internet data than previously. Take this into consideration. For more precise help you can use Compare Mobile Plans’ plan wizard (found at the top of our homepage) to find out which mobile plan is best for your individual usage requirements. Using this tool, you can set your calls, sms and data per month to narrow down your search.

Price:

What is your budget? Never choose a plan you can’t afford or where potential excess charges in a heavy usage period could blow your budget. Consider how many calls you make to local, national, international, mobiles, or people with the same provider’s numbers. Check out each plan’s call rates for the kinds of services you intend on using.

Caps:

When choosing a cap plan make sure to find out the call rates. Most cap plans charge 90c a minute, in per-minute blocks (in the past, blocks were usually 30 seconds). Over a month-long period, being charged by whole minutes can have a huge effect on your phone bill or heavily eat into your free minutes. For example, if you have a ten second phone call, you will be charged for an entire minute. A 61 second phone call will cost you two minutes.

Rates vary greatly. Find out the cost per minute/cost per half-minute and consider how long your usual calls are, plus your monthly total call volume.

There’s also the flag fall fee to consider. This is the cost a provider charges for making a phone call. How much does the provider charge for each call even before time starts ticking away.

Unlimited Plans:

There has been some backlash against the use of the term "cap" in recent years, as it became clear that the amount advertised is actually a minimum, and not a cap at all. Many providers have now switched to slightly pricier Unlimited Plans. Make sure to carefully read the conditions, as these too will have some exclusions which are very pricey, such as 13 numbers or excess data.

Pay As You Go Plans:

Some companies have taken an opposite approach, offering pre-paid plans with 90 or 365 day expiry periods. Others have taken $0 monthly plans that charge very little per minute, per SMS or per megabyte. These plans are ideal for light users; often the amount used in an average month still comes well below the minimum of a cap plan. But more importantly, a bad month will result in slightly higher spend, while a bad month on a cap plan can mean massive 'bill shock', when a bill comes in that is so well beyond expectations that customers feel cheated.

Contract:

Do you want a contract? If you don’t you can get pre-paid plans, but if you do, make sure to consider the expiry date of your credit, and the call rates. Many pre-paid customers are shocked to find that their credit is exhausted within a matter of days.

Handset:

Decide which handset you are going to get. Consider the price as well as the functions on each phone and whether or not they suit your budget and needs. A smartphone is only smart when used for its features; otherwise it's a very delicate and expensive piece of equipment. Featurephones (or "dumb phones") are sturdier, have much longer battery life, and are actually jam packed with pragmatic features like flashlights, mp3 players, radios, cameras and alarms. And of course, they're one tenth the price.

Note: Weigh up additional monthly costs for the handset on top of your normal plan charges. It’s worth paying a little bit more for a higher cap if it means you get your handset for free. For example, Caps that cost between $59-$89 hit the ‘sweet spot’ in terms of having the option of a free phone.

Coverage:

Are you well covered? Find out how many mobile phone towers are in the main areas that you plan on using your phone. There are only really three networks: Telstra, Optus and Vodafone, with most other providers actually re-selling a slightly hobbled version of Optus' network (Optus usually caps the data speed for their re-sold network).

Telstra's network covers more country, and is stronger in far more places where it overlaps the other two. Optus and Vodafone are both undertaking vast improvements to bring themselves in line, but their networks are usually only comparable in major urban areas or large country towns. They are, however, much cheaper. 

 

Data:

Find out how much data comes with your plan. Some plans don’t have a free data allowance, which can mean excess charges at the end of the month. For example, if you plan on using the internet a lot with an iPhone or Google Android phone, getting a plan with free data allocation will be a good idea.

Data tethering:

This is a great option on some plans where you plug your smartphone into your laptop, which then wirelessly connects your computer to the internet. In essence, the mobile phone functions exactly like a wireless portable internet USB modem connecting to the 3G networks. It works as long as you are in range of a mobile phone tower. This service used to be charged; most networks now provide it free of charge. But it is best to ask before taking up a plan; some too-good-to-be-true plans might include excessive charges for tethering.

Speed:

The speed of your mobile phone’s wavelength is usually only relevant in relation to data transfer on the internet. Most companies now run on the quick 3G network, but Telstra do offer Next G, which is faster. Super-fast 4G (or Long Term Evolution LTE) is being rolled out by Telstra, with coverage within 5km in the major cities. Only one phone is available to take advantage of this network at the time of this writing (Jan 2012), but more will be coming soon, especially with Optus and Vodafone also rolling out their own 4G networks.

One other situation where your wavelength speed may be important is when you are far away from mobile phone towers. A faster wavelength means your coverage and the speed of data transfer will be better further away from the tower. This is true of networks using the 1850 Megahertz (MHz) and 850 MHz spectrum, while the 2100 MHz spectrum is wider spread but weaker. All three networks use 2100 and 850 MHz frequencies; only Telstra has an 1800 MHz frequency to date.

Bonus Options:

Take into consideration any special deals a provider is offering, but make sure to read all of the small print. For example, you may be offered ‘unlimited SMS’ in some plans, but only on caps over $70.

Another example is an Optus cap plan that comes with $300 of free calls to other numbers from the Optus network. These free calls are only accessible after you’ve already spent $300 of the total $600 cap. In reality, this means by the time you’re making free calls to other Optus phones, you’ve entered the ‘danger zone’ where calls to other providers’ numbers are charged at high rates.

Business Options:

Check with the mobile phone provider to see what kind of corporate plans are available or that can be negotiated. In many instances, special cheap bulk plans for companies are worth making the effort.

 

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