4G is great, but a lot of the time you don’t really need it. Granted, getting double the potential speed of ADSL on your phone is one of the cooler perks of living in the future, but unless you’re spending most of your time streaming HD video most of that potential is going to waste.
Believe it or not, 3G technology can achieve serious speeds now that everyone’s switched over to 4G and stopped clogging up the old networks. You can achieve speeds easily fast enough to stream music, browse, check social media, upload photos or even stream video content if your data cap permits.
Of course, you don’t pay any more for Telstra, Optus or Vodafone to give you 4G instead of 3G; it’s all the same as far as billing is concerned, but we’re not talking about the big telcos. Some newer carriers don’t even offer access to 4G. As such, they tend to charge a whole lot less.
Yes to MVNO
Who are these mysterious 3G carriers? They’re called Mobile Virtual Network Operators, or MVNOs. An MVNO pays bulk prices for access to the Optus, Telstra or Vodafone network and then passes the discounted rates on to its customers.
MVNOs tend to not offer phone subsidies, but they also don’t lock you in to a contract. Network access is monthly, or done on a prepaid basis. Either option means you can up and bail any time you want to with no financial obstacles. Really there’s no harm in trying them out. The worst that can happen is you decide you liked 4G after all and go back to your old telco.
On the other hand, you could save hundreds.
Telstra vs MVNO
Telstra has a reputation for being pricey, which is often justified by its larger network coverage. What if you could still get that same coverage, but avoid paying the premium?
Telechoice is an MVNO running on the Telstra NextG network. This is one we’ve personally tested and achieved 11Mbps on a regular smartphone. That's well in the range of a home ADSL connection. Of course, speed will vary depending on your location.
Looking at a 1.5GB plan – what the average user looks for according to our site data – you’ll pay $55 a month for a Telstra SIM-Only plan, which carries a 12 month minimum term.
Turn your attention to Telechoice and you can get the same data with similar call and text inclusions for $35 a month with no contract. Over the 12 month period for which the Telstra plan lasts, this could save your wallet a full $240.
This Telechoice plan, called the Global Liberty Leader Plan, includes international calls as part of its $650 monthly talk and text allowance. That's not too shabby if you have overseas commitments.
Optus vs MVNO
Perhaps the most well-known MVNO in Australia right now is Amaysim, which operates over the Optus 3G network. Amaysim earned its name with generous data allowances and low call and text costs.
You’ll get none of Optus’ data sharing or auto-upgrades on Amaysim, nor will you get 4G. What you will get, however, is 4GB of data and unlimited talk and text for $39.90 a month on the Amaysim UNLIMITED plan.
Optus’ comparably-priced $45 SIM-Only plan offers just 2GB of data. By sacrificing a little speed, you can effectively get double the data and still pay less.
Vodafone vs MVNO
Interestingly, Vodafone’s prices are similar to some of the MVNOs operating over its network. That’s because right now Voda has a 500MB Bonus Data deal going, which sweetens the deal somewhat. Still, there are some great savings to be had.
Hello Mobile is another Vodafone MVNO. It's a little different. Hello's Combo Plus Plan is $39.90 a month for the same 1GB as Vodafone, but is still limited to 3G.
Yet it manages to remain attractive in a different way. It includes unlimited talk and text within Australia, as well as 250 minutes of calls to international numbers in selected countries.
To be perfectly candid you’re unlikely to need more national calls than is offered by the $35 Vodafone plan, but 250 minutes of overseas talk could make all the difference if you have family living abroad. It’ll certainly save you paying for expensive long-distance calls, which can rack up a decent bill.
More fish in the sea
If these plans in particular don’t appeal to you then never fear. There are heaps of other MVNOs to choose from. Some of them, particularly those on the Optus network, even offer 4G access.