What Exactly Are Shared Phone Plans and Who Has Them?

28 April 2015

Shared plans are new to the Aussie market. They're a little different to how the operate overseas, and each carrier seems to have a different definition of what 'share' means when it comes to your mobile handset.

Around 50% of the US market subscribes to a Family Plan (as they are called there), as a way of saving money on an often-expensive US phone plan system. They took the nation by storm, they have the same potential to do it here.

We're starting to see some evidence of this. Vodafone introduced its shared plans only in February. Since then, Optus has already followed suit.

So what are shared plans?

There are two kinds of ‘shared’ plans; one of which is comparable to the US Family Plan model, the other is not.

  1. The first to arrive was a data-only sharing format from both Optus and Telstra. On these plans, a user may share the data from their phone plan with other devices, like a tablet or WiFi Hotspot. Telstra charges $10 per month, Optus charges a one-off $5 fee, after which a data SIM is sent out to you. This SIM can be put in a tablet or other compatible device. It is linked to your phone plan’s monthly data allotment, so you end up using the same pool of data across multiple devices.
  2. The second is the 'Family Plan' format, which is what Vodafone launched in February and has the potential to shake up the Aussie phone plan industry. This system combines multiple mobile phone lines; complete with calls, text and data; in to one joint service. Each phone still gets a unique phone number, but all of them share the same call, text and data pool. Actual family relation is not required.

Telstra: individual data sharing

If you’re on an eligible Telstra Mobile Accelerate Plan, or Mobile Accelerate BYO Plan, then you can sign up for a month-to-month Data Share SIM. This SIM card will let you access your current plan’s data pool on another device, but adds no new data and does not support phone service.

The Telstra data share SIM is an extra $10 per month per SIM, with a maximum of five SIMs that can be added to any plan.

Telstra plans: compiled and compared

Optus: individual data sharing and Family Plans

Optus has two kinds of plan sharing: Data Sharing and Family Share Plans.

Data Sharing: For a one-off payment of $5, you will receive an additional data SIM linked to your mobile phone account. This SIM can be put in any compatible 3G or 4G device (must have a SIM slot), after which it will grant access to your mobile plan’s data pool.

This SIM card is functionally identical to Telstra's data share SIM, so you don’t get any extra data. This is just a way of accessing the data you already pay for on a different device. You can get up to five extra SIMs this way for a total of six devices, including your original phone SIM. The best news is that there's no additional monthly cost. All you pay is that up-front $5.

Family Shared Plans: Family Sharing lets you take multiple Optus mobile phone plans and jam them together, creating one big pool of calls, text and data for all the members to share among themselves. This costs nothing and there is no limit on the number of plans that can be joined this way.

There is no obvious monetary incentive here; no discounts for joining plans with another person. The benefits come from making sure you get the most out of what you pay for.

Optus claims that 68% of its contracted phone plan customers use less than half of their monthly data allowance. At the same time, 18-20 year olds use 2.7x more data than folks over 45 years. Parents on an expensive plan that barely touch their data may save some money by signing their kid up to a cheaper plan and joining it with their own, finally getting their money’s worth out of that unused broadband resource.

Take a look at all Optus plans

Vodafone: Family Plans

Vodafone’s approach to sharing came first and is similar to Optus Family Sharing. You need at least one person signed up to a 12 or 24 month RED Plan to get going. These have generous data inclusions, but are designed for use by a single user. After that, there is a suite plans that can be added to the original RED Plan.

Any other RED Plan can be tacked on, meaning that phone subsidies are still possible. There are two other options as well: specially designed month-to-month Share Plans, some for phone and some for tablet.

The SIM-only plans are cheaper, but do not come with a phone. Thanks to being shared with the RED Plan, they include unlimited talk within Australia, as well as unlimited text to both national and some international numbers.

If you’d like, you can take a more in-depth look at Vodafone Shared Plans in an earlier post.

Check out our complete list of Vodafone plans

Will shared plans change the market?

It all depends on how they're implemented. The US method has been hugely popular, in part because of how its shared plans are constructed and in part because phone plans with decent data were prohibitively expensive when back Family Plans were introduced.

Here, things are a little different. It's 2015, so there are plenty of affordable plans with generous data going around. That means shared plans are going to have their work cut out for them if they're going to entice people over from their familiar single-line plans.

As Vodafone and Optus are currently offering them, they're not necessarily going to be an industry-breaker. Each solution offers great value for some customers, but isn't applicable to everyone. On top of that it's more complicated than the US method of 1 Big Plan + More Users.

That being said, two major carriers are already on board. The question now is not if they'll stick with it, but who will be next: Telstra or Virgin Mobile? After all, it's not an expensive option for carriers to offer in its current iteration, but could be a make-or-break for families with data-hungry kids and parents that need a large monthly call allocation.

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