Apr. 8th, 2011

It's been a while since I last did the math on mobile phone plans, so I just spent way too much of my time going over it all again.

I ignored VHA in this, as their network is currently pretty useless. They have some offers which look attractive on the surface, but there's not much point having an "unlimited" plan if you can't use it.

Went with two (approximate) price-points: $60/month and $100/month, looking at Telstra caps, Telstra pre-paid, Optus caps, and Virgin caps. Virgin runs on the Optus network. There are a bunch of smaller VMNOs running on Optus, but life is too short to dig them all up.

For each I went with the Samsung Galaxy S, as that's a very popular Android phone right now and the sort of device I'd be looking at if I were buying at the moment. The S II will probably attract a bit of a premium when it comes out, but that isn't expected until June at the earliest.

For the Telstra pre-paid, I assumed buying the phone outright from Mobicity. This is the i9000M (the NextG version of the i9000) for $649, amortised over 24 months.

So, the headline numbers, monthly:

CostMinutes$/min
Telstra 59 $65611$0.11
Telstra Pre 40$67573$0.12
Virgin 59$59454$0.13
Optus 59$59786$0.08
Telstra 99 $991333$0.07
Telstra Pre 60$871056$0.08
Virgin Topless$890$0
Optus Timeless 99$990$0

It is of course not quite so simple. Some important notes:

  • None of these take flagfalls into account
  • Not taking account of any bonus "limited-time offers"
  • Voicemail access on all but the last two also costs money
  • The Telstra post-paid plans and the last two include unlimited domestic text messages
  • The Telstra pre-paid plans allow you to use the "real" balance (as opposed to the "cap" balance) for international calls
  • The Optus and Virgin plans do not allow you to make international calls with the call credit, you pay extra for those
  • All these plans except the Telstra pre-paids include over a gigabyte of data. The Telstra pre-paids include less data, but it's easy to top that up using your "real" pre-paid balance (rather than the "call credit" balance).
  • The pre-paids do have the advantage of owning the phone outright and not having any contract. Also no network locks, so you can swap the SIM out any time
  • The post-paid plans are all 24-month contracts

My conclusions, assuming you don't have a network preference:

  1. For anything up to ~700 minutes a month, if you don't make (m)any international calls the Optus $59 plan is the best value
  2. Between ~700 and ~1300 minutes per month, the Telstra $99 post-paid is the best bet, unless you're using the cheesy free-bonus-calls deals Optus and Virgin offer. My experience has been that I never use them, and my best guess is that this is true for a lot of people -- otherwise they wouldn't be offered!
  3. Over 1300 minutes per month the Virgin "Topless" is the way to go. It looks to be identical to the Optus "Timeless", but they have a $10/month discount for online orders.

All that said, my money will keep going to Telstra. Even where it's not the best-value option it's still pretty close, and the network coverage is much better even in the city. If you're going into regional areas much then Telstra is the no-brain choice. (Edit: corrected the point re: Telstra plans and international calls.)

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