What you missed in the last 2 years: how to pick a phone plan

17 July 2015

If you’re coming off a phone contract, it’s unlikely you’ve paid much attention to the telco market for at least 24 months. That means you’re two years out of the loop.

Things have changed a bit in that time. It’s important that you go in to your next contract with your eyes open. If you don’t, there could be some great plans and savings that you miss out on.

The telco landscape is different now

Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Virgin Mobile have all changed the way they do business within the last 24 months. You also need to consider the rise of the Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO); network resellers that buy telco access wholesale and pass the savings on to their customers.


Bigger data, sometimes: Telstra revamped its mobile phone plans in May 2015, offering significantly more data on its higher tier plans, but with minimal-to-no increase on the lower ones.

Data Sharing: Following in Optus' footsteps, Telstra offers the ability to grab a separate data SIM for use in a tablet or hotspot that uses the data pool from your phone plan. Unfortunately, these SIMs are still an extra $10 per month, rather than the one-off $5 fee that Optus charges.

New Phone Feeling: New Phone Feeling is an early-upgrade system run by Telstra. For a fee of $149, you can upgrade your handset after only 12 months, so long as you trade in the old one in good condition with only minor wear and tear.

This is actually a decent deal for folk that must have the latest and greatest smartphone in their life. Often a handset will depreciate $149 or more over one year, so trading it in and swapping it for a new one can be a money and effort saver.

The kicker? That new phone also comes with a new 24 month contract.

The Premium Plan: Telstra has added a new tier above its standard plan range. The Premium Plan is a little harder to find on the telco's website, and it's only for the serious mobile user. At $195 per month, you get 16GB data, unlimited calls and text both within Australia and to overseas numbers, built-in roaming allowances and built-in New Phone Feeling.

Auto top-ups: Following in the footsteps of Optus and Vodafone, Telstra now uses an auto top-up system for data overuse. If you go over your data, you will pay $10 and another 1GB will be added to your plan until the end of the month. This can happen multiple times. Once it ticks over, your plan will revert to its original data inclusion and price.

No effort required: our compiled list of Telstra plans


Optus is responsible for some big changes.

Auto top-ups: In a strong blow against bill shock, Optus abolished costly per-MB overage fees in 2013 and replaced them with automated plan top-ups. Now, if you go over your data allocation, you are automatically charged $10 and given an extra 1GB to use until the end of the month. After month’s end, your plan reverts to its normal size and cost. This new system has been adopted by Vodafone and Telstra as well.

Bigger data: Optus plans now offer more data than they did before, sometimes considerably. If you've been frustrated at the amount of data on your Optus plan, you might be able to get the data increase you need without paying extra.

Data sharing: Data sharing is another big addition, albeit only for some customers. For a one-off payment of $5, you can order another SIM (up to 5 more) and add it to your current phone plan. This SIM card is data-only and draws from the same data pool as your phone. It’s a great way to power a mobile hotspot, or a cellular tablet, without paying for a separate data plan.

Say goodbye to bill shock: check out Optus plans


Vodafone has done a lot to repair its damaged reputation. There are more than a few perks on Australia’s third-biggest telco that you’re probably unaware of.

Data Workout: Data Workout is a promotion that has been extended many times, but is currently scheduled to end on December 31. On every Vodafone contract plan, Data Workout gives you unlimited data for your first two months. Unlimited.

Auto top-ups: Vodafone followed closely on Optus' heels with auto top-ups. It's exactly the same deal as both Optus and Telstra: go over your data and you'll be charged $10 for an extra 1GB. Once the month is done, your plan reverts to its original price and data allocation.

Unlimited overseas texts: All contract plans but the lowest-tier $30 option offer unlimited texts both within Australia and to overseas numbers in select countries.

Free Spotify Premium/Stan/SMH: The three hero ‘RED’ plans take things even further. One each you can choose between a free subscription to Spotify Premium, Stan or the SMH. These free subscriptions are shorter than the life of your contract and lengths vary depending on which plan you choose, but it’s a good way to save some extra cash if you were already planning on signing up anyway.

$5 a day roaming: RED roaming allows you to use your phone plan’s normal inclusions in 47 countries for just $5 extra a day. The charge is incurred automatically whenever you use your phone service in an eligible country. If you don’t use it during that day you won’t be charged. This is significantly cheaper than other roaming fees and makes short trips much easier.

ShaRED plans: Family ShaRED plans are something new from Vodafone. They’re a little complicated, but the general gist is that any RED Plan can now be stacked together with special ShaRED plans. This means you can have multiple people on the same plan, all sharing the same call allotments and data pool. For more information read our full post on Vodafone ShaRED plans.

All about those features: Vodafone plans love juicy extras

Virgin Mobile

Virgin hasn’t changed up its role too much in the last 24 months, except for the addition of data roll-over, which is admittedly a pretty big deal.

Data-rollover: This is a great scheme where any unused data from your previous month is added to the next month’s allocation. Finally you might actually get to use all of that data you paid for, instead of it vanishing at the end of each month.

Size isn't everything: take a look at Virgin plans


Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) are much more popular and numerous these days. They’re a great way to save money and tend to offer their plans without a lock-in contract. Some are restricted to 3G, others operate over 4G.

Almost none of them offer phones on their plans, but if you already have a phone then perhaps this is something you should consider.

Most MVNOs operate on a BYO basis, and are even cheaper than the contact-free options from the big four carriers. There are literally dozens of carriers to choose from. Here are a few examples, but for more info be sure to check out our carrier comparison listing, updated regularly.

Boost Mobile



Per month $18 $40 $38 $54.90
Parent network Optus 4G Telstra 3G Optus 4G Optus 4G
More from this carrier Full list of
Vaya plans
Full list of
Boost Mobile plans
Full list of
Jeenee plans
Full list of
amaysim plans

You’ll probably use more data…

If you’re used to a 3G plan then the switch to 4G can be a shock to the system. Where once videos and songs took time to load, they’re now done before you’ve fully lifted your finger from tapping the screen.

This is a good thing, but it also means that you could end up using more net-based services thanks to this new-found convenience.

There’s also modern phone technology to consider. Quad-HD displays begged to be used and that powerful CPU is hungry for newer, bigger, better games and experiences. Downloading these new apps is a great way to get value out of your phone, just remember that every megabyte counts.

…but that doesn’t mean you need a bigger plan

Just because you’re using more data doesn’t necessarily mean you need a bigger plan. A lot of people never even nearly get near their monthly cap. Moreover, with the $10 automated top-ups on some providers it may still be cheaper for you to stick with your current allocation and just pay $10 whenever you go over… so long as it’s only by 1GB.

Take a look at your past phone bills and see how close you came to your cap each month. If the answer is “nowhere near”, then you’re probably safe to stick with your current amount.

Save more than you think by keeping your phone

Nowhere is it written that you have to upgrade your phone every two years. If you’re happy with your current device then you can save hundreds by going with a BYO plan on a big provider, or with an MVNO.

BYO plans

You pay a lot more for a phone on a contract than you may think. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the “$5 handset repayment” on your plan means you’re getting a phone for $5 x 24 months = $120. A steal, right? Wrong.

Compare the base cost (ie, with no phone repayment) of a 24 month plan to any month-to-month BYO plan and you’ll see a staggering difference. We've picked one plan pair from each provider as an example. Remember: the 24 month contract prices are without the added phone repayment cost that would usually accompany them. These are just the base plan prices. Data allotments do not include any limited promotions.



Virgin Mobile
24 month contract $70 $80
(6GB data)

BYO phone, no contract $50 $60
(8GB data)

Difference over 24 months
(without an added phone repayment)


(+2GB per month)

(+4GB per month)

Compare for yourself Full list of
Telstra plans
Full list of
Optus plans
Full list of
Vodafone plans
Full list of
Virgin plans

*Plans have long-running bonus data included. Promotions may eventually end.

This is just how much more you pay for the base plan cost. Once you add phone repayments on top of that, things start to add up quickly. If you're happy with your current phone, you may do well to switch to a BYO plan until you really think an upgrade is necessary.

The good thing about these BYO SIM-only plans is that they're month-to-month, so you can quit or upgrade any time you like.

Surprised Phone image from Shutterstock

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