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

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

Best network
Cheaper phone plans
Brodie Fogg
Editorial Lead
Read More
September 27, 2022
7 min read

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Quick verdict

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.

In the broadband arena, Telstra and Optus aren’t all that different but there’s a huge difference in value across their various mobile offerings. Optus has been hot on Telstra’s heels over the years, expanding its coverage to 98.5% of populated Australia. 

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.

Here are the postpaid plans from each provider, side-by-side:

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.

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 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.

Use the provider dropdown in the map below to compare Telstra and Optus coverage in Australia.

Telstra vs Optus: 5G coverage

It's still early days for both providers, but Telstra's commitment coverage has extended to 5G in this early stage of the next-gen network's rollout. 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 80% 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 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, 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 MVNOs using the same infrastructure when it comes to SIM-only and prepaid plans with at least 20GB of data.

Does Telstra or Optus have cheaper plans?

When it comes to these titanic telcos, working on a low budget can be tough.

Budget isn’t exactly the kind of vocabulary you associate with either provider. For the sake of this match-up, let’s take a look at the cheapest SIM 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.

The cheapest Telstra SIM plan will get you 40GB of data, unlimited standard calls and text. It has 5G connectivity, but limited to speeds of 250Mbps. For comparison, we've seen speed tests over 1Gbps on the Telstra 5G network.

The cheapest SIM-only plans are rarely the best value, that’s true for any provider. Both Telstra and Optus offer much better value SIM-only plans if you’re happy to pay a fraction more.

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

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, text and data-free music streaming via Apple Music.

Info Box
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.

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 S22 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 40GB per month with Telstra. 

Honestly, if you're looking for a bargain on the Galaxy S22, your best bet is through the Telstra-powered MVNO Woolworths Mobile. It has much cheaper deals with decent monthly data. The only caveat is, Woolworths Mobile only has 5G on its most expensive plan, so you're not really going to be saving if 5G is important to you.

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.

Let's take a look at some more popular Samsung Galaxy S22 128GB handset combinations from all providers for a broader look at what's on offer.

Telstra vs Optus: Prepaid plans

Telstra currently offers a total of six different prepaid plans, which range from as cheap as $10 to as much as $250.

On top of this, the company also offers a $2 SIM-only kit and a "Casual" prepaid option that offers a six-month expiry but only includes 300MB of data, 80 minutes of talk, and 100 texts. That's not going to be enough for data hungry Aussies looking to make the most of the latest iPhone, but it might be a good option for younger (or older) consumers looking to rely on a feature phone like the Nokia 225 4G.

Optus' prepaid offering is a little more convoluted. The carrier currently offers a total of nine different prepaid options that range in both cost and the T&Cs involved.

Over half of these prepaid plans are branded 'Flex' plans. The remainder are more traditional prepaid packages that range from $30 to $300. 

Available in both 4G and 5G variants, Optus' prepaid Flex plans start at $1 per day and go up to $30 per month or $300 per year. The idea here is that you can better scale and match the cost of your mobile data to your needs. To that end, Optus' 5G Flex prepaid plans are priced at double that of their 4G counterparts. 

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

If you’re looking for a plan with long-expiry credit, Telstra’s 12-month expiry $300 Prepaid Max plan is currently discounted down to $250. The jumbo-sized plan includes 200GB of data, plus unlimited standard national calls and text year-round. There's also 6,000 minutes' worth of international calls to Telstra's Zone 1 countries, and 800 minutes' worth of calls to Telstra's Zone 2 countries.

Optus, on the other hand, currently offers 100GB of data on its $150 365-day prepaid plan.

All that considered, Telstra and Optus are rarely your best options for prepaid. There are a few cheaper providers that use the Optus and Telstra networks to power their own prepaid mobile services.

Here are the most popular prepaid plans on the Telstra and Optus networks this week.

Brodie Fogg
Written by
Brodie Fogg
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.

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