Choice is currently claiming that it is impossible to compare mobile phone plans. They're running with the line that a "rational human being" simply can't compare the plans on offer.

This is bullshit, unless by "rational human being" they mean "innumerate".

It is absolutely correct to say that Australian telcos obfuscate their pricing. That's what the whole "cap plan" thing is about. But it is not impossible to compare them and to then make an informed choice. As Choice are apparently unable to do this, here's a quick guide.

First, you need to have some clue what you need. Otherwise the comparison is... lacking in utility. So, come up with an estimate of how many minutes you use on outgoing calls per month, how many calls and their average length, how many text messages you send, and how much data you consume. That last one is probably moot if you're like most Australians and you're not doing a lot of mobile Internet stuff. But in any case you'll find all of the information you need to come up with these numbers on your bills.

The basic trick for comparing plans is to come up with a price per minute. To compare approximately like-with-like, here are the Optus and Telstra $79 cap plans.

For $79 a month, Optus provide "up to $610" of calls and text messages to any Australian number, at a nominal charge of 35c flagfall and 78c per minute.

For the same $79 a month, Telstra provide "$750" of calls and text messages to any Australian number, with a 37c flagfall and 40c per 30 seconds.

Optus aren't charging for text messages on the $79 cap, while Telstra is charging 25c per message.

Most of the time for most people most of the "bonus" options they throw on -- like free calls to one specific number, or extra calls in-network -- aren't as useful as they might seem at first, and you probably won't save much from them unless you really do make most of your calls to just one or two numbers. Unless your existing use pattern conforms heavily to the terms of these "bonus" deals don't even include them in your calculation. Think about it for a moment: if they thought you were going to use it a lot they wouldn't be making it free, would they?

At the simplest level, this means Optus is giving you 782 (610 / 0.78) minutes per month of calls, while Telstra gives 937 (750 / 0.80).

However. Flagfalls and call lengths are relevant. If your average call runs for three minutes -- a quick look over your bills will suffice to give you an approximate number that fits your circumstances -- then that call costs you $2.69 (0.35 + 3 x 0.78) on Optus and $2.77 (0.37 + 3 x 0.80) on Telstra, and you'd be able to make 226 (610 / 2.69) of these on Optus and 270 (750 / 2.77) on Telstra.

This all assumes that your main use of the phone is in calls rather than texts or data. A similar process can be used to figure out value-for-money with those too. But ultimately you need to do this for a couple of plans to figure out which cap level is appropriate to your needs and then compare approximately the same monthly outlay across all the relevant telcos to see who is offering the best deal. Not that "cheapest" is necessarily best -- you'll also have to think about coverage and network quality but that was going to be true anyway.


Abort, Rephrase, Ignore?

October 2011

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