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The ultimate guide to choosing a mobile plan
Ultimately choose the best mobile phone plan.
It’s easy to stick with the same telco and plan perpetually. But that doesn’t mean that particular telco or specific plan is right for you. There’s money to be saved, data to be discovered and plenty of perks to be plundered. Those are the basics, but there’s also Prepaid vs SIM Only to consider, as well as BYO handset vs using a Postpaid plan to pay off a smartphone.
Let’s dive into everything you need to know about picking the perfect mobile phone plan for your needs.
Prepaid vs SIM Only mobile phone plans
There are two main types of mobile phone plans in Australia: Prepaid and SIM Only. The main big difference between the two is that Prepaid plans are paid in advance of use, while SIM Only plans tend to be paid at the end of a monthly billing cycle. The only exception to this is Telstra Upfront plans, which are SIM Only plans albeit they’re paid in advance of each month’s usage.
When a Prepaid period expires, you basically can’t use your phone anymore until you recharge, either manually or automatically. With SIM Only plans, you’ll have a telco-designated deadline for your bill, but you’ll be able to keep using your mobile phone for calls, texts and data until the plan is cancelled.
Prepaid mobile phone plans break down into three different varieties. Starter packs are a great place to kick off because they tend to offer cheap prices with plenty of data. As the name suggests, though, they’re a once-off deal, and you’ll shift onto a regular Prepaid plan afterwards. There are also Prepaid subscriptions, which are identical to Prepaid monthly plans, except they automatically renew at the start of the designated billing period. Note that regular Prepaid plans may have the option to activate automatic payments to stay connected after a Prepaid recharge expires.
Most Prepaid starter packs, plans and subscriptions revolve around monthly periods. That said, in Prepaid terms, a month either lasts 28 days, 30 days or an actual month, depending on the telco and type of plan. While a monthly Prepaid plan or 30 days will typically recharge 12 times per year, 28-day plans need an extra annual recharge to make up for the difference in days, so factor that into cost comparisons.
Below is a daily updating list of popular monthly Prepaid plans from our comparison engine.
Prepaid plans can also expire much sooner or way later than the three monthly options. For example, there are one-day and seven-day Prepaid plans, but this also stretches up to six-month and 365-day plans for those seeking long-expiry Prepaid plans.
Below is a daily updating list of popular long-expiry Prepaid plans from our comparison engine.
We track the Prepaid plans of more than 15 telcos in our database, including:
It used to be that Prepaid plans were seen as only for kids and teens or older adults, but that’s changed in recent times. The reality is that Prepaid and SIM Only plans are worth appraising for budget-friendly plans for young ones or older adults.
Prepaid plans give more control over spending, but in dollar-for-dollar comparisons, you may find more value in a Prepaid plan. If the kid or older adult is using a feature phone (aka a “dumb phone”), there’s less of a need for data, whereas any smartphone will benefit from a data allowance.
SIM Only plans
There’s not a lot of nuance when it comes to SIM Only plans, especially compared to the different tiers of Prepaid plans. Whichever price you pay for a SIM Only plan, it covers a month of calls, texts and data allowance. Dollars-to-data value tends to be better with SIM Only than Prepaid, and the more you’re willing to spend each month with SIM Only plans, the more data you can expect to get.
SIM Only plans also usually have more perks than Prepaid plans, especially when you spend more. It’s not overly difficult to find an international call allowance with Prepaid plans, but international talk and text becomes more commonplace for SIM Only plans. There are other perks, too, like capped speeds if you go over your monthly quota, data sharing and data banking, plus sporadic add-ons like limited-time subscriptions to streaming services.
We track more than 15 telcos in our comparison engine that offer SIM Only plans, some of which will be familiar from the Prepaid list above, including:
- Aussie Broadband
- Dodo Mobile
- Moose Mobile
- Southern Phone
- Tangerine Telecom
- Woolworths Mobile
And below is a daily updating list of popular SIM Only plans from our database.
Data bank vs data rollover
We’ve got an article dedicated to the differences between data bank and data rollover, but here are the basics. Data banking and data rollover are effectively the same thing. Basically, they’re interchangeable terminology used by different telcos.
Whichever term you see, it refers to the option to recycle unused data between SIM Only months or Prepaid recharges. Usually, there’s a cap on how much data can be stored but telcos like Amaysim and Belong have unlimited banking/rollover. Note that Boost Mobile only lets its users roll over unused data to the next recharge, which expires after that next recharge period ends.
Here’s the list of telcos we track in our comparison engine that offer data banking or data rollover.
Data rollover or data bank?
|Aldi Mobile||Prepaid||Data rollover||30GB|
|Australia Post||Prepaid||Data rollover||100GB|
|Belong||SIM Only||Data rollover||Unlimited|
|Boost Mobile||Prepaid||Data rollover||Next recharge only|
|Gomo||Prepaid||Data rollover into data bank||200GB|
|Lebara Mobile||Prepaid||Data bank||200GB|
|Mate||SIM Only||Data bank||500GB|
|Numobile||SIM Only||Data bank||300GB|
|Woolworths Mobile||SIM Only and Prepaid||Data bank||500GB|
And here’s a daily updating list of popular SIM Only and Prepaid plans from the telcos we track that offer data banking or data rollover.
BYO phone vs Postpaid mobile phone plans
Outside of Prepaid and SIM Only plans, the other big initial decision to make is whether you want to bring your own (BYO) phone or use a Postpaid mobile plan to pay off a new handset. Prepaid and SIM Only fans are, by default, BYO mobile plans. Bringing your own phone gives you the flexibility to shift plans and telcos as you see fit, without any hardware exit fees.
When it comes to new smartphones, though, it also means you have to pony up hundreds or potentially thousands of dollars before buying a Prepaid or SIM Only plan. Postpaid plans, on the other hand, are SIM Only plans with a handset-repayment component. Handset repayments are in either 12, 24 or 36-month blocks. The longer the handset-repayment duration, the cheaper the monthly repayments.
These days, there aren’t any additional fees associated with exiting a no-contract Postpaid plan early, except for the requirement to repay what’s remaining on the handset repayments. This makes it easier to shift plans with the same telco but—depending on how far you are into a 12, 24 or 36-month handset repayment period—you may have to pay hundreds or thousands of the remaining smartphone cost before you can shift telcos.
Certain telcos let you trade in particular smartphone models for account credit, while others offer incentives to upgrade ahead every one or two years with a nominal fee after trading in your current Postpaid handset. Additionally, telcos like Numobile and Boost Mobile sell a range of refurbished smartphones to help keep costs down.
There aren’t any wrong answers when it comes to BYO or Postpaid handsets. If you’re a long-term customer with a particular telco that offers Postpaid plans, it makes sense to stick with them and save money upfront. That said, if you like chasing the latest deals, having an unlocked phone makes that a lot easier.
Here’s a list of the telcos in our comparison engine that sell new smartphones and/or let you bundle them with Postpaid plans:
- Southern Phone
- Woolworths Mobile
And below is a daily updating list of some popular smartphones.
It used to be the case that when you bought a phone from a particular network holder—Telstra, Optus or Vodafone—the phone would be locked to that network. These days, it’s less common for handsets to be locked to a network.
If you have bought a smartphone from a telco and you suspect it’s locked to their network, check with them to confirm it’s unlocked before shifting telcos. There are also other ways to determine whether your phone is unlocked.
Personal vs business mobile phone plans
There’s not really much difference between personal mobile phone plans and business mobile plans these days. While certain providers may slap “business” on a plan, in our experience, these tend to be comparable (if not identical) to everyday mobile plans in terms of pricing, data and inclusions.
This may change for enterprise-level mobile plans, but for small and medium businesses, it’s okay to browse personal mobile plans alongside whatever is marketed as a business mobile plan. Telcos may also let you add your company’s ACN or ABN to your mobile account, which may make it easier at tax time. The other main difference to keep an eye out for is whether a business plan offers dedicated business support channels, which may be preferable to queuing up for help on a residential support channel.
The nature of Prepaid mobile plans is you won’t find any contracts. At worst, automatic renewal on Prepaid plans or subscriptions may mean you’ve paid in advance for the next billing cycle. But that’s as bad as it gets.
For SIM Only plans, there’s a similar trend towards no-contract options. Outside of handset repayments on Postpaid plans—which are separate from plan commitments—it’s rare to find contracts on SIM Only plans.
Unless there’s a killer deal tied to a plan contract, we’d advise steering clear of them to have the flexibility to shift if something better comes along (without having to pay an exit fee).
Mobile plans talk and text
Back when mobile phones were first popularised, people mainly communicated via calls and text. It meant that telcos competed on call minutes and the number of text messages their users could send. These days, the norm in Australia is for mobile phone plans to come with unlimited calls and unlimited text messages.
That’s true of Prepaid and SIM Only plans, with the only proviso being that unlimited talk and text is limited to Australian numbers. If you’re someone who still loves to talk on the phone and text, it means you can save a lot of money by opting for a cheap plan that has minimal data. Check out the daily updating list of Prepaid and SIM Only plans below that don’t cost more than $20 but come with unlimited talk and text.
Telstra, Optus and Vodafone are all mobile network operators (MNO), while any other telco that uses one of those networks to connect is referred to as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO). Because there are only three main mobile networks in Australia, any telco that isn’t Telstra, Optus or Vodafone piggybacks onto one of those networks, meaning they don’t own their respective mobile networks. MVNOs have the same coverage reach and associated speeds based on whichever network it uses to connect its customers, except that 4G is the norm and MVNO 5G coverage is still expanding.
Mobile plan data caps
Given that unlimited talk and text are standard these days, the main thing telcos compete over is how much data you get. It’s still very much the norm for Prepaid and SIM Only plans to have data caps, typically expressed in gigabytes (GB).
Once you use up all of your allocated data, a few different things might happen. For Prepaid users, you won’t be able to use any data-using apps or functions until you recharge. For SIM Only users, it depends on which telco you’re with. Telcos with “limitless data”—like Telstra, Optus and Vodafone—throttle your overall speeds until the next billing cycle. For Telstra and Optus, this is 1.5Mbps, but for Vodafone, it varies based on how much you pay: either 2Mbps or 10Mbps.
Other SIM Only telcos may automatically charge per gigabyte of extra data, or they may charge per megabyte. If you’re someone who regularly comes close to or busts data caps, it’s worth considering a plan with more data. Alternatively, consider switching to a telco that offers limitless data. While 30GB is sufficient for most users, there are Prepaid and SIM Only plans with double the data or more.
Check out popular plans from our comparison engine with at least 60GB of data.
Outside of the limitless-data plans mentioned above, there are a couple of unlimited-data mobile plans you can buy these days. As in, literally two options. For SIM Only users, Vodafone has an unlimited max-speed plan, which includes access to the Vodafone 5G network. The only data-related catch is hotspot max-speed data is restricted to 30GB (2Mbps speeds thereafter). For Prepaid users, Felix Mobile has unlimited data on the Vodafone 4G network, albeit capped at 20Mbps max speeds.
Mobile network coverage
There are currently three network providers in Australia, all of which support three types of connectivity: 3G, 4G and 5G. While 3G is the oldest, 4G is commonly available throughout populous parts of Australia, while 5G is still being rolled out.
Telstra, Optus and Vodafone are the three mobile network providers in Australia, and that ranking is also reflective of the coverage reach of each provider’s network. The only slight disclaimer there is that while Optus and Vodafone MVNOs have access to the full stretch of either respective network (excluding 5G in most cases), Telstra has its main network for Telstra and Boost Mobile customers. Other Telstra MVNOs use the slightly smaller Telstra wholesale network.
Here's a look at the 4G coverage reach for the mobile networks in Australia:
- Telstra main 4G network (including Boost Mobile): 99.4% of the Australian population.
- Telstra wholesale 4G network (Telstra MVNOs): 98.8% of the Australian population.
- Optus 4G (includes Optus MVNOs): 98.5% of the Australian population.
- Vodafone 4G network (includes Vodafone MVNOs): more than 23 million Australians.
And here’s how 5G coverage looks in Australia for the three main networks:
- Telstra 5G: 75% of the Australian population.
- Optus 5G: 830,000 Australian households.
- Vodafone 5G: 1,000 Australian suburbs.
Below is a daily updating list of 5G mobile plans from our database.
The comparison values change for Vodafone in terms of 4G coverage (millions of people instead of population percentages) and it’s three different metrics for the 5G networks. In practical terms, those in Australia’s biggest cities should expect to be near or inside 4G (and potentially 5G) coverage areas, with Telstra being the most likely, then Optus and, finally, Vodafone.
If coverage is a critical consideration for your mobile plan, seek out Telstra or Boost Mobile first, followed by a Telstra MVNO, before considering Optus or Vodafone (and their respective MVNOs).
It's important to flag that mobile speeds are impacted by a variety of factors, including the network you’re on, mobile tower congestion and whether you’re outside or inside. For example, to reach the best 5G speeds, you’ll need a 5G-compatible handset and have a 5G-supported mobile plan. You’ll then need to use your phone outside in an area that doesn’t have too many users on the same network competing for finite resources.
Similarly, even if you have a 5G smartphone and 5G plan, you need to be in an area with 5G coverage to tap into the speed advantages. If not, speeds revert to either 4G or 3G, based on where you are and what’s available at the time.
Use the interactive network coverage map below for an approximate idea of how network coverage looks in your area. The drop-down menu lets you select Telstra, Optus or Vodafone networks. You can check and uncheck the 5G, 4G and 3G boxes to see which parts of the network are most relevant to the areas where you live, work or frequent. Note that your area may have better coverage from a smaller network.
Telstra network telcos
In our comparison engine, we track more than a dozen telcos on the Telstra network (including Telstra), most of which offer SIM Only plans but some of which sell Prepaid plans. Check out the full list of Telstra network telcos that we track in our database:
- Aldi Mobile
- Boost Mobile
- JB Hi-Fi
- Southern Phone (limited circumstances only; Southern Phone mainly uses Optus 4G)
- Woolworths Mobile
Below is a daily updating list of popular plans on the Telstra mobile network, across SIM Only and Prepaid options.
Optus network telcos
We track more than a dozen Optus network telcos in our comparison engine (including Optus), the majority of which sell SIM Only plans but some of which offer Prepaid plans. Here’sthe full list of Optus network telcos that we track in our comparison engine:
- Aussie Broadband
- Catch Connect
- Coles Mobile
- Moose Mobile
- Southern Phone
For an idea of Optus network plans, check out the daily updating list of popular plans from our database.
Vodafone network telcos
Of the three networks in Australia, Vodafone has the fewest telcos that use it. We track more than five of them in our database (including Vodafone), most of which are Prepaid. Below is the list of all of the Vodafone network telcos that we track in our database:
- Felix Mobile
- Kogan Mobile
If you fancy a Vodafone network plan, check out the daily updating list of popular picks across Prepaid and SIM Only plans.
At the time of writing, 3G network coverage was still important because it lets people in regional parts of Australia have cellular connectivity. The thing is, the 3G network is long in the tooth and isn’t long for this world, depending on which network you use.
Telstra has announced it will cease all 3G services by June 2024 and Optus has already repurposed part of its 3G network spectrum. That said, Optus hasn’t committed to a timeline for when it will fully shut down 3G. Similarly, Vodafone has maintained a commitment to keep 3G. While both Optus and Vodafone have repurposed the 2100MHz spectrum for their respective 4G networks, they are still offering 3G services on the 900MHz spectrum. Without getting too technical, these changes may impact older 3G phones.
Check with your telco that your handset is supported if it’s older and you’re concerned about a lack of coverage.
International talk and text
If you have friends, family and/or colleagues overseas, international talk and text may be an important consideration. There are plenty of SIM Only and Prepaid plans that offer international calls to several countries, while international texts are more commonplace with SIM Only plans. Note that some telcos offer unlimited talk and/or text while others restrict the number of minutes per month or recharge.
While having the option for international talk and text is a great add-on for some, it may be redundant in this data-obsessed age. Data-based communication services like Skype, Zoom and Discord (to name a few) are popular ways to stay in touch, which can easily cross borders and don’t charge extra for talk and text.
The only thing to watch out for is data usage, which goes up when you add video but is relatively low if you’re just using the instant messaging or voice-chat functionality of these services. It’s also worth noting that having your phone connected to WiFi when you’re at home—ideally, an NBN plan or similar with unlimited data—means you can preserve precious mobile data and partake in more data-intensive tasks without worrying about your monthly data cap.
Below is a daily updating list of popular SIM Only and Prepaid plans that come with international inclusions.
Mobile data plans
Just because you’re connecting to a mobile network, doesn’t mean you need to use it for cellular calls or text messages. Mobile broadband plans are popular picks that use Australia’s mobile networks to provide compatible tablets, computers, pocket WiFi dongles and other cellular-capable devices for internet on the go.
Here’s a look at the mobile broadband providers we track in our comparison engine:
- Aldi Mobile
- Catch Connect
- Southern Phone
While most of those telcos offer plans on the respective 4G mobile networks, Optus and Telstra sell 5G mobile broadband plans. Bear in mind that most modern smartphones let you tether to share your mobile data with other devices, so these mobile broadband plans and mobile modems may be surplus to requirements. Also note that while Optus and Telstra cap speeds at 1.5Mbps after a max-speed data cap has been exhausted, other telcos charge more if you go over.
Below is a daily updating list of popular mobile broadband plans from our comparison engine.
How much mobile data you need each month is determined by your usage patterns, bearing in mind that mobile data isn’t consumed when your phone is using WiFi for internet connectivity.
You’ll need a lot of data if you stream a lot of videos, tether with other devices and download lots of files. Most other tasks don’t use up a whole lot of data. According to updated ACCC estimates, Prepaid users go through about 9GB a month while SIM Only users tend to use around 17GB each month.
Most telcos let you track data usage or notify you at specific intervals. Modern smartphones also track data usage. We advise tracking your data usage over a month and using those figures to determine how much you need before shifting mobile plans. It’s always better to opt for slightly more data than you need than run the risk of having to pay excess fees, dealing with slower internet or running out of data before your Prepaid period renews.
Mobile plan cost breakdown
How much do mobile plans cost? Well, it varies based on what you’re after. SIM Only plans start at under $10 a month for a handful of gigabytes, while ongoing monthly Prepaid plan costs are around about the same for 4GB or more of data.
Expect to pay closer to $100 (or more) for the SIM Only plans with the most data, but these plans tend to also include some great perks, including access to 5G speeds for relevant telcos. We consider 30GB to be a healthy amount of data for most mobile users.
Somewhere in between the cheapest mobile plans and the most expensive is where most people will find the most value. For instance, when picking our best Prepaid plans each month, we cap eligible plans for the big-data category at a $50 max monthly cost, as there are still some great options with plenty of data.
When it comes to picking our big-data category for the best SIM Only plans each month, we up the max spend to $70 a month for a couple of reasons. First, to reflect the reality that SIM Only users tend to go through more data each month than Prepaid users. And second, to meet the apparent needs of a growing base of SIM Only users who crave at least 100GB of data.
It’s really easy to shift telcos these days. You get to keep your existing mobile number and the process is relatively straightforward. Basically, find a new plan, order a new SIM or eSIM from your new telco and choose to port your number. Once the SIM arrives, follow the activation steps and you’ll be good to go within the hour. You may receive a final bill from your old telco, but there’s usually no need to even talk to your ex-telco to switch.
How to choose the right mobile plan for your needs
Given that national unlimited talk and text are the norm for mobile plans in Australia, there’s no need to factor them into your mobile plan comparisons. What really matters most is coverage and data. After that, we’d advise choosing between SIM Only or Prepaid before considering speed and perks.
Mobile plan coverage
If you live in a metropolitan area, you’ll have a choice between Telstra, Optus and Vodafone networks, but consider which one might have the best and most up-to-date coverage for where you use your phone most.
For those who live in regional parts of Australia, Telstra has the most expansive network, followed by Telstra’s wholesale network, Optus and then Vodafone. That said, Optus and Vodafone are still committed to 3G connectivity for those with older handsets, so that’s an important consideration if you’re in a 3G area, too.
Because the best coverage for most Australians comes from the main and wholesale Telstra networks, the daily updating list of popular SIM Only and Prepaid below are all on those networks.
Mobile plan data
Data is the thing that most telcos compete on, so either sort your network needs first or start with price comparisons based on data caps. For our guides, we use 10GB as plenty of monthly data for everyday users and 30GB for heavy users. There are people who will use less than 10GB data and those who chew through way more than 30GB. For the lighter users, there’s money to be saved on cheaper Prepaid and SIM Only plans.
If you have everyday data needs, check out the daily updating list of popular SIM Only and Prepaid plans from our database that have at least 10GB of data.
For the heavier users, we’d advise going with a SIM Only plan that has plenty of data. The Circles.Life 100GB Monthly Plan is where we start for heavy SIM Only users because it costs under $50 for 100GB of Optus 4G data. That’s not to say you have to go with this plan, but we do advise using its pricing (particularly during promotional periods) and dollars-to-data value as a guide for where you can potentially save money or may need more data.
Mobile plan SIM Only or Prepaid
We advise choosing between SIM Only or Prepaid only after determining the data you need. Using the ‘All’ setting on our full mobile comparison engine makes it easy to use the data slider to compare mobile plans across SIM Only and Prepaid types. Using the data slider to set how much data you need lets you determine how much you can expect to pay across mobile plans and Prepaid/SIM Only types.
These days, Prepaid is as viable a choice for everyday users as it is for students and older adults. Prepaid not only gives greater control over spending, it’s also a great way to save money, particularly for first-year savings. If you have your average monthly data usage figured out, we absolutely recommend looking at long-expiry Prepaid plans. The Kogan Extra Large - 365 Day Flex Plan, for instance, typically costs $300 for the first year for 500GB of Vodafone 4G data. That works out to $25 a month in the first year for just over 41GB of data each month. Any month you use less than 41GB of data, you have more to use in the following months, but note that the opposite is also true.
Physical SIM cards are still offered by all telcos, but there’s a push towards digital eSIMsthese days. Basically, eSIMs don’t require a physical SIM card, but they do need a participating telco as well as a compatible plan and smartphone. Certain telcos may also offer a cheaper or free initial month or recharge if you use eSIM over a physical SIM. An eSIM has the same function as a physical SIM but it also technically converts an eSIM-compatible phone into a dual-sim device, freeing up the physical SIM card slot for another SIM.
Mobile plans for extreme mobile data usage
If you’re someone who regularly blows through a data cap, we’d advise looking at either Vodafone’s unlimited-data SIM Only plan (which includes access to the Vodafone 5G network) or Felix Mobile’s unlimited-data Prepaid plan, which is capped at 20Mbps speeds. In our metro tests, Felix Mobile’s capped speeds were still fast enough to do everything we’d normally do on a mobile, including streaming HD video from YouTube, Netflix and Kayo Sports.
Alternatively, you don’t need unlimited data to have access to a lot of monthly mobile data. Below is a daily updating list of popular SIM Only and Prepaid mobile plans with at least 200GB of data.
Mobile plans for speed
We think it’s ill-advised to pursue mobile speed trends just for the sake of it. Why? Almost every common smartphone used today doesn’t really benefit from speeds above 50Mbps. It’s a different story when it comes to NBN plans because home internet is responsible for a lot more heavy lifting when it comes to downloading across devices.
That said, if you’re someone who loves to tether your phone and share data with the kind of devices you’d typically use at home—particularly if you’re on an unlimited-data mobile plan—speed becomes important. It’s the same case for any online gamer or video caller who appreciates the perks of the lowest possible mobile latency.
The speediest mobile plans are on a 5G network. According to 2021 tests from our sister site WhistleOut, Telstra 5G was marginally faster than Optus 5G and both networks were noticeably faster than Vodafone 5G. Upload speeds were closer between Telstra and Optus, with Vodafone 5G behind at around half the speeds. For latency, the fastest results came from Optus, closely followed by Telstra, with Vodafone 5G not too far behind.
If you’re in the market for a 5G plan, check out the daily updating list of 5G popular picks from our database below.
Mobile plans for perks
The final consideration for a mobile plan should be inclusions. Really, these are nice-to-haves compared to the more critical considerations above, but they can also help identify the perfect plan if there are close competing options.
International calls and/or texts are common inclusions, but if those aren’t of interest to you, keep an eye out for data banking or data rollover to store unused data between SIM Only months or Prepaid recharges. Other perks tend to be either time-limited, like a few months for specific streaming services, or telco-specific: like day rollover for Optus Prepaid plans or Woolworths shopping discounts from Woolworths Mobile.