Telstra vs Boost vs Belong: Mobile coverage match-up

Telstra network
4.5 out of 5 stars
  • pro
    World-class network with 5G rolling out
  • pro
    Extensive customer support
Telstra Wholesale
4 out of 5 stars
  • pro
    Unlimited data banking
  • con
    No prepaid plans
Telstra network
Boost Mobile
3.5 out of 5 stars
  • pro
    Uses full Telstra 4G network
  • con
    No international roaming
Alex Kidman
Apr 09, 2024
Icon Time To Read4 min read

Telstra’s mobile network is Australia’s largest whether you’re talking population coverage or land mass coverage, but the sneaky secret here is that while Telstra owns and operates its own 4G and 5G networks, you’re not stuck with only using Telstra as your actual telco if you’re looking to save a few bucks – and who isn’t looking to save a few bucks these days?

Telstra allows Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs) to sell services using the Telstra network – or at least parts of it in most cases. Telstra has fewer MVNO partners and subsidiaries than either Optus or Vodafone, but choosing a Telstra MVNO such as Boost or Belong can, on paper, be a great way to save a few dollars.

How much can you save? Let’s compare Telstra, Boost and Belong Plans to give you a starting position:

Cheaper at the checkout can often mean you’re compromising on quality, and it’s a common concern for mobile users that when they switch to an MVNO, they’re getting a lesser signal picture. So what’s the story here?

Telstra coverage

Telstra’s mobile network encompasses 3G (through to mid-2024) , 4G and 5G coverage across what it states is Australia’s largest mobile network – but this doesn’t mean that it covers every single square inch of the country in full-fat mmWave 5G just yet. 

Telstra’s specific claim here is that it covers 99.6% of Australia’s population, but you have to remember that demographically, we all tend to live in clusters (cities and towns, basically), mostly situated around the coastlines of Australia. There’s a lot of Australia that has more limited mobile coverage, so don’t plan on parachuting into the middle of the Great Sandy Desert and being awash with 5G signal just yet!

The big difference when you go “full fat” Telstra is that you get the entire network to use, where for most of its MVNO partners, they get “Telstra Wholesale” coverage  -- which we’ll get into shortly – with a slightly smaller footprint. Here’s how that visually compares:

Telstra’s own claims around the wholesale network do still encompass a very wide swathe of the Australian landscape, with more than 1.6 million square kilometres of coverage, with the key points of difference typically being in far more remote parts of Australia. If you’re a city dweller almost exclusively, the differences are likely to be moot, but if you do travel a little more off the beaten path, that coverage difference could mean a lot to you.

As a full service network provider, Telstra also offers other frills such as Telstra Plus for discounted movie tickets and reward points, and it is worth keeping those in mind when comparing Telstra plans against its MVNO partners for a total value picture.

Telstra’s prepaid plans tend a little pricier than their MVNO partners, while its SIM-only “Upfront” plans offer a range of price points and inclusions. Unlike Boost or Belong, Telstra also offers a wide range of popular smartphones on contract terms to go along with its plans.

Boost coverage

Boost Mobile is a Telstra MVNO, but it sits in a unique position amongst Telstra MVNOs – there’s undoubtedly contracts and money involved – because it’s the only Telstra MVNO to have full access to the entire Telstra 3G, 4G and 5G network no matter where you are in Australia.  

That puts Boost in a very different position to other Telstra MVNOs if you do need that wider coverage area on a regular basis. Boost Mobile has long sold itself as a low-cost, high value essentially no-frills provider however, so don’t expect cheaper movie tickets or the like on a Boost Mobile plan. Boost Mobile does have an online shop that sells handsets, but they’re exclusively refurbished models, not new stock.

However, if you look back up to that coverage map, there’s no difference between Telstra and Boost Mobile at a coverage level, making them a solid choice at a direct value level.

Belong coverage

Belong sits in an interesting place in the Telstra MVNO ecosystem, simply because it’s actually just a Telstra-owned MVNO. You might think that this would afford it the same coverage privileges as its big corporate daddy – but you would be wrong. Belong operates in coverage terms like any other non-Boost Telstra MVNO, operating on the Telstra Wholesale network instead with its smaller coverage area.

Belong does offer a few perks that are not common in the MNVO space, however, including data banking if you don’t use all your data within your expiry period, but also data gifting to other Belong mobile or data plan customers. That’s a neat perk if you have multiple family members on Belong, because instead of paying for data boosts if you’ve got data going spare you can simply shift it between accounts in 1GB increments.

Graphic of a man comparing Telstra, Optus and Vodafone coverage

Telstra vs Optus vs Vodafone coverage

If Telstra or a Telstra MVNO don't seem right for you, we've also compared Big T's coverage to Optus and Vodafone.

Which provider should you choose?

Everyone’s needs are different, so there’s no definitive answer here, but it is worth comparing not only price and data inclusions, but also additional features.

For example, Belong operates on a postpaid basis, while Boost is purely prepaid. Telstra is technically “both”, though its upfront plans do operate a little bit like prepaid plans in many respects. 

Each of the three telcos offers slightly different takes on speed coverage too. Speed on mobile networks is always highly variable anyway, but most of Belong’s plans are capped at 150Mbps down, 250Mbps at the highest tier. That’s the case for Boost too at most speed tiers save for its highest tier 28-day plan where speeds are uncapped. Telstra varies depending on your prepaid or upfront status. 

What is nice here is that you do genuinely have choice, even if you do happen to live more regionally where the common consensus has for so long been that you’re only covered by Telstra and therefore Telstra is your only telco choice. That might be true in terms of network coverage, but it doesn’t have to be true for the actual telco you use – or the price you pay.

Alex Kidman
Written by
Alex Kidman is some kind of word-generating AI from the future that somehow worked out how to sneak back in time to 1998 to start its journalism career. Across that time, including editorial stints at ZDNet, CNET, Gizmodo, PC Mag and Finder, as well as contributions to every major tech masthead, nobody has quite managed to figure out this deeply held secret. Let’s keep it between us, OK?

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