Telstra vs Optus Mobile: 5G, plans, coverage and value

We pit Australia’s two largest mobile network operators against each other.

Best network
  • pro
    99.5% coverage
  • pro
    SIM only plans from $62
  • pro
    Prepaid plans from $35
Cheaper phone plans
  • pro
    98.5% coverage
  • pro
    SIM only plans from $52
  • pro
    Prepaid plans from $35
Brodie Fogg
Dec 06, 2023
Icon Time To Read8 min read
Quick verdict

In the broadband arena, Telstra and Optus aren’t all that different. On the other hand, there’s a huge difference in value when it comes to the mobile and phone plans available from Australia's two biggest providers. BYO customers have a large suite of options from both providers but for our money, Optus offers better value when buying either a SIM-only plan or a new phone on a plan.

As for coverage, it’s a no-brainer. Telstra is the undefeated coverage champion in Australia and shows no signs of slowing down with the rollout of 5G. That said, Optus has been hot on Telstra’s heels over the years and can offer better value on a data-per-dollar basis.

Telstra and Optus are like the Godzilla and King Kong of Australian telcos. They've clashed plenty of times over the years, but it's easy to wonder if the two have more in common than they do apart.

If you're struggling to choose between Telstra and Optus, we can't blame you. However, we can offer some advice. Let's start with the pros and cons plus a round-up of the postpaid plans from each of the two providers, side-by-side:

Telstra

pro
Pros
pro World-class network
pro Extensive customer support
con
Cons
con Expensive plans

Optus

pro
Pros
pro Good data-per-dollar value
pro Great coverage and 5G
con
Cons
con Low customer satisfaction

Telstra vs Optus: Which has the best coverage?

There’s no question about it, Telstra is and always has been the leading Australian telco for mobile network coverage.

With 99.5% of the Australian population by Telstra’s 4G network and a dedication to delivering coverage in some of the most remote parts of Australia with its Blue Tick initiative, Telstra has always been the most reliable in terms of coverage. That’s why so many people in rural areas have been happy to pay the premium.

To be completely fair, Optus network still covers a whopping 98.5% of the Australian population. That doesn’t sound like much of a difference but when we’re talking about over 25 million Australians, it’s quite a large difference.

To get a sense of how the coverage of Telstra compares to that of its biggest rival, use the provider dropdown in the mobile coverage map below to compare the two.

Telstra vs Optus: 5G coverage

While the earliest and messiest days of the 5G network rollout are likely behind us, Telstra's first mover advantage remains more or less intact. A quick glance at the 5G coverage map below shows that Telstra has superior 5G coverage in most major cities and many regional areas. Telstra's 5G network now covers over 85% of the Australian population.

Optus has a decent 5G footprint too, now covering over 1.4 million homes. But if you use the dropdown in the map below to switch between the two providers, you'll see that Telstra has a significantly higher density of coverage in metropolitan areas.

When it comes to the MVNOs, Telstra and Optus do differ when it comes to much of their network they're willing to share.

Telstra customers have access to the carrier's entire network footprint, which covers 99.5% of the Australian population. Meanwhile, Telstra MVNOs like ALDI mobile use the Telstra Wholesale Network.

This skimmed-down version of Telstra's network reaches just 98.8% of the Australian population. That might not sound like a huge difference, but if you're in a rural area it can count for a lot. The one exception here is Boost Mobile, which does have access to the full Telstra network.

For a comparison of how Telstra's MVNO partners compare to its own in-house plans, check out the widget below.

In contrast, MVNOs on the Optus network have access to the exact same coverage footprint as Optus' own customers. This is great for consumers as it means they can look for the best deal without having to worry.

Check out the widget below for a round-up showing how Optus compares to Optus MVNOs using the same infrastructure when it comes to SIM-only and prepaid plans with at least 20GB of data.

Best mobile phone plans Australia

Telstra vs Optus vs Vodafone coverage

Want to know how Vodafone stacks up against the big guns in terms of coverage? Visit our dedicated Telstra vs Optus vs Vodafone coverage guide for the full lowdown.

Does Telstra or Optus have cheaper plans?

When it comes to these titanic telcos, working with a limited budget can be tough.

Cheap isn’t exactly the word you associate with either provider. For the sake of this match-up, let’s take a look at the cheapest SIM-only plans offered by both providers and what they include. It's worth noting that Telstra moved to an upfront payment system for its BYO SIM plans in 2021. Most of the inclusions remain the same, with a few small upgrades, but all Telstra SIM-only plans are now charged at the start of the month, rather than the end of your billing period.

The cheapest Optus SIM plan currently available will get you 30GB of data, unlimited standard calls and text. If you're using a compatible handset, you'll also get 5G everywhere that the Optus network offers it.

The cheapest Telstra SIM plan will get you 50GB of data, unlimited standard calls and text. It has 5G connectivity, but limited to speeds of 250Mbps. On paper, Telstra's next-generation network is capable of speeds as many as four times that figure. However, if you'll have to live within those limits if you want to take advantage of the biggest 5G network on a budget.

That said, the cheapest SIM-only plans are rarely the best value from any mobile provider. That’s just as true here as anywhere else. Both Telstra and Optus offer much better value SIM-only plans if you’re happy to pay even a fraction more.

Likewise,  there's even better value to be had (though only SpinTel, Southern Phone and Aussie Broadband offer 5G plans) if you're happy to go with a lesser-known provider on the Telstra or Optus network.

Telstra payphone

Telstra vs Vodafone mobile match-up

We pit Australia’s biggest mobile network (Telstra) against its third biggest (Vodafone).

Telstra vs Optus: Which has the highest data mobile plan?

Optus offers up to 360GB per month on its most expensive phone plan. It's a very pricey plan, but it does come with unlimited standard international calls and text to 35 selected destinations, and discounted access to Optus Sport subscription. You'll pay $6.99 per month instead of the $24.99 per month you're billed if you're not an Optus customer. 

Like Telstra, Optus no longer has excess data charges, switching to a more manageable endless data solution where your speeds are capped at 1.5Mbps when you exceed your monthly allowance. So even if you do go over your data with either provider, you won't get any unnecessary bill shock.

Telstra currently offers 180GB mobile data on its most expensive plan. It costs you a pretty penny but it also gets you unlimited standard calls and text plus a bagful of bonuses like free streaming subscriptions.

Telstra vs Optus: Which has the best customer service?

Of course, pricing, data and perks aren't the only considerations when tossing up between mobile providers. You also want to know any issues you may have will be sorted out quickly and easily, so customer service is an important factor to think about.

Australian telcos don't have the best reputation for customer service and satisfaction, and Telstra and Optus are actually two of the worst offenders. According to user-generated reviews website Product Review, Telstra has a meagre 1.4-star rating, while Optus has an even lower 1.3-star rating.

Based on those numbers alone, Telstra just comes out on top, but neither provider gets a full tick of approval from us for customer service.

It is of course remembering that user reviews aren't always the best way to judge a telco - most people aren't going to go out of the way to rave to write an online review unless they've had a particularly bad experience.

Telstra vs Optus: Phone plans

Telstra and Optus both offer the option to pay your phone off over 12, 24, or 36 months. 

Of course, the longer you contract for, the cheaper your monthly handset repayments will be. You'll end up paying roughly the same for your handset across all options but longer contracts and lower monthly payments will work for some, whereas others would rather pay more per month if it means shortening the contract period.

For this comparison, we've selected the Samsung Galaxy S23 5G 128GB 24-month contract.

With this particular plan and handset combination, Optus offers the lower starting price on a plan with 30GB per month, but a little extra will get you 20GB per month with Telstra. 

When it comes to overall value for other handsets, like the latest iPhone, Optus often pops up in our monthly picks for the best mobile phone plans in Australia.

It's also worth noting that you're only contracted to pay off the handset repayments. The plans themselves are technically month-to-month, so if you cancel there aren't any exorbitant cancellation fees, you just need to pay off the handset. That's why the total minimum cost for each plan seems so low, you're only obligated to pay for one month of service and the full cost of the handset.

For a better sense of how these plans compare to the rest of the market, let's take a look at some more popular Samsung Galaxy S23 128GB handset combinations from every other provider that offers that the device.

Telstra vs Optus vs Vodafone Coverage - Featured Image

Optus vs Vodafone mobile match-up

We pit Australia’s second biggest mobile network (Optus) against its third biggest (Vodafone).

Telstra vs Optus: International roaming plans compared

Provider
Min. roaming cost
GB/ expiry
Expiry
Min. SIM plan cost
Min. total cost
Optus prepaid$5 1GB1-day$12/week$17
Optus postpaid$5 5GB1-day$49/mth$54
Telstra prepaid$10 400MB3-days$12/week$22
Telstra postpaid$10 1GB1-day$62/mth$72

Telstra vs Optus: Prepaid plans

Optus prepaid Flex Plus plan pricing

Optus' prepaid Flex Plus plans start at $12 per week and go up to $320 per year. The idea here is that you can better scale and match the cost of your mobile data to your needs.

The big difference between Telstra and Optus prepaid plans is the way that international calls are handled.

Consumers who opt for a Flex Plus prepaid plan with 28-day expiry with international calls get unlimited calls to 20 countries. If you're keen to call a destination that isn't on that list or go with a prepaid plan that doesn't include international calls, then Optus sells a $5 add-on that gets you up to 300 minutes standard international talk to 50 selected destinations.

Telstra prepaid starter kit pricing

Telstra currently offers a wide range of prepaid plans, which go from as cheap as $12 to as much as $320.

New Telstra customers get to choose between seven different starter kits. Each of these plans comes with a boatload of bonus data up-front. However, that allowance will start to shrink following your third recharge. Check out the widget below for a no-nonsense breakdown of Telstra prepaid plans.

Returning existing Telstra customers have just as many options to choose from when it comes to prepaid recharge plans. There's a slight difference between the price you'll be paying for a starter kit versus the cost of recharging each month, as well as the inclusions that either gets you. In any case, check out the widget below for the full round-up of Telstra prepaid recharge plans.

Telstra prepaid recharge pricing

The one difference between these two categories of Telstra prepaid plans, aside from the amount of data included, is the number of international calls you get. For a full breakdown of how international inclusions vary across the Telstra prepaid plan range, check out the table below.

Recharge amount
Zone 1
Zone 2
Zone 3
Texts to any country
$30300 minutes60 minutes5 minutes100 texts
$40500 minutes100 minutes10 minutes100 texts
$501000 minutes150 minutes15 minutes100 texts
$601500 minutes250 minutes20 minutes100 texts
$1503000 minutes350 minutes50 minutes100 texts
$3006000 minutes800 minutes100 minutes100 texts

Telstra prepaid long expiry pricing

For those seeking a low-cost and long expiry option, there's the Telstra Prepaid Mobile Casual plan. This corner of the roster might not be enough for data hungry Aussies looking to make the most of the latest iPhone. Still, it might be a good option for younger (or older) consumers looking to rely on a feature phone like the Nokia 225 4G.

Hopping on board the bandwagon here will cost you a budget-friendly $35. The plan you get for that thrifty sum includes got six-month expiry but only 350MB of data, 80 minutes of talk, and 100 texts. That's not much to work with, but there are a few different options when it comes to topping up your data allowance as you go along.

As with the rest of the Telstra prepaid roster, the international inclusions for the prepaid casual plan change depending on how much you want to pay when it comes time to recharge. Check out the table below for a breakdown of the international inclusions for each of the plans listed in the widget above.

Recharge Amount
Zone 1
Zone 2
Texts to any country
$205 minutes5 minutes5 texts
$3010 minutes10 minutes10 texts
$5010 minutes10 minutes10 texts
$7020 minutes20 minutes15 texts
$10020 minutes20 minutes15 texts

Telstra vs Optus: who has the best prepaid plans?

Like Telstra, Optus' best-value prepaid plans also tend to be reserved for new and online-only customers. Still, the widget below should give you a better idea of how the two providers compare when it comes to prepaid plans offering at least 30GB of data per month.

All that considered though, Telstra and Optus are rarely the best options when it comes to prepaid plans. There are plenty of cheaper providers that use the Optus and Telstra networks to power their own prepaid mobile services.

If you like the idea of saving some cash while keeping the same level of coverage, MVNOs are an option well worth considering. Here are the most popular prepaid plans on the Telstra and Optus networks this week that aren't available from either big provider.


Telstra vs Optus FAQs


Is Telstra better than Optus?

While Telstra has Optus beat when it comes to coverage, the different in network speeds isn't huge. If you care more about how much data you have to play with each month than how fast you get it, then there's a case to be made that Optus offers better value.

Is Telstra faster than Optus?

The speed of your mobile internet relies on a multitude of factors, including coverage, whether or not your plan includes 5G access, and even the make and model of your phone. Under controlled conditions, however, our friends at WhistleOut found that, when it comes to 5G speeds, Telstra tends to outperform Optus. That said, both regularly reach speeds in excess of 200Mbps, which should be more than enough for most users.

Who is the best mobile provider in Australia?

While we'd rate Telstra above Optus when it comes to network coverage and speed, it's hard to overlook the fact that you are paying a premium for those Telstra-specific perks.

Just because one provider has a bigger and better network doesn't necessarily make them the best mobile provider for every consumer out there. Depending on your circumstances or needs, the cost-savings afforded by Optus or another provider might make for a much better fit than the high price that Telstra's mobile plans command. As always, it's best to do your research before you decide.

Is Telstra more popular than Optus?

While popularity is a vague metric, Telstra does command a larger share of the Australian market than Optus does. That number might not reflect how Aussies feel about either telco, but it does suggest that Telstra is the more choice among consumers. 

Brodie Fogg
Written by
Brodie Fogg is the Australian editorial lead at Reviews.org. He has covered consumer tech, telecommunications, video games, streaming and entertainment for over five years at websites like WhistleOut and Finder and can be found sharing streaming recommendations at 7NEWS every month.

Related Articles

Roborock Flexi Pro Wet and Dry
Roborock Flexi Pro Wet and Dry review: Flexxing on Dyson
Same price, same vibe, better value.
HP Spectre x360 14
HP Spectre x360 14 (2024) 2-in-1 laptop review: Class act
Sophisticated design helps elevate respectable performance.