There are three Australian mobile networks in Australia – Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. Collectively these are sometimes referred to as the ‘Big Three’. There are also many smaller retailers that offer mobile services to customers. In the market these retailers are called Mobile Virtual Network Operators or MVNOs.

What is the difference between the big networks and MVNOs?

The three big networks build and maintain their own mobile infrastructure while MVNOs do not. Instead, MVNOs bulk-buy mobile services from one or more of the big networks and sell them on to their customers. This means all the smaller operators operate under one or more of the Big Three.

As a customer you can buy mobile phone plans either directly from one of the big networks or from a retailer / MVNO. Both offer Post Paid Plans and Pre Paid Plans, although not all retailers include devices in their plans.

Network frequencies – 3G, 4G, 5G

The big networks operate on highly regulated frequencies – which are essentially spectrum blocks purchased from the government. When you hear someone say 3G or 4G they are referring to mobile spectrums or frequencies, with the ‘G’ standing for ‘generation’.

2G is old technology and all three networks have switched it off. 3G and 4G are currently the most widely used. 5G is the latest generation technology which you’ve probably been hearing about. Telstra is in the process of rolling out 5G, which should mean greater capacity and faster speeds for its users.

Not all mobile devices support all frequencies, so it’s important to ensure your phone matches network bands in your region. This means if you are using a very old 2G phone or one from overseas it may work for calls and texts but not for data.

These days however it’s generally quite easy to switch between providers without too much hassle. You will however need to make sure your phone is unlocked from your current provider before switching.

 

Telstra

Telstra is Australia’s largest telecommunications provider, offering over 99% coverage across Australia. It utilises 3G and 4G connection technology but is now moving onto 5G.

Telstra provides parts of its 3G and 4G network space to its MVNO partners through its wholesale arm. This can result in a difference in speeds and coverage between a direct Telstra plan and one purchased through one of its MVNO retailers.

 

Optus

Optus is number two in terms of size. It uses 3G and 4G, covering 98.5% of Australia. While Optus plans tend to be slower than Telstra’s in terms of speeds, this is usually reflected in its lower pricing structures.

Optus offers its full 4G network to its MVNO partners. This means there should not be any real difference between Optus and its MVNO partner plans in terms of connectivity and speeds.

 

Vodafone

Vodafone also uses 3G and 4G, covering around 96% of Australia. The company claims its longer spectrum blocks allow devices on its network the advantages of wider bandwidth.

Vodafone offers its full network services to a handful of MVNOs.

MVNOs / Retailers

The big networks and MVNOs or retailers operate independently in a commercial sense. This means when MVNOs buy network services from one or more of the big networks, they are then free to set their own prices.

The MVNO market is very competitive, which means they will often cut prices and offer some fantastic deals and specials for customers. This in turn means when it comes to seeking out the best mobile plans to suit your needs, the world is pretty much your oyster!

Popular MVNOs in Australia
Pre Paid Plans
  • Amaysim (Optus): offers a wide variety of plan Pre Paid Plan options including small cheap mobile plans and bigger plans for heavier users.
  • ADLI Mobile (Telstra): offers affordable data value packs ranging from small to very large in size.
  • Boost Mobile (Telstra): provides Pre Paid Plans over wide ranging expiry lengths from very short to very long term.
  • Kogan Mobile (Vodafone): offers a range of Pre Paid Plans over a wide variety of expiry lengths.

 

Post Paid SIM-Only Plans
  • Southern Phone (Telstra and Optus): could suit light to medium users as it offers micro plans through to medium-size data plans
  • Belong (Telstra): offers several Post Paid Plans to suit light to medium users.
  • Vaya (Optus): Vaya’s plans would most likely suit medium to heavier mobile service users.
  • iiNet (Optus): offers 4G Post Paid Plans to suit medium users.
  • Dodo (Optus): Dodo offers some very cheap Post Paid Plans with generous amounts of data.
How to find the best mobile phone plan and save money

Providing you don’t need a new phone included in your plan, signing up for a SIM Only Plan with an MVNO should get you the best deal in cheap phone plans. If you do however want a new phone included, you will need to go to one of the major networks or through an MVNO that offers device-included plans.

Econnex’s comparison engine can help you find the best mobile plans on the market to suit your needs, from the major networks as well as smaller MVNOs. Econnex’s comparison engine also operates completely independently, which means the recommendations and deals you see are the real deal without bias or preference. What you get when you use the engine is easy to follow clear comparisons of the top deals in the market. The savings you can make are also shown in real dollar amounts rather than percentages. So, if you want to upgrade your phone and / or your plan benefits the best option for you is just a search and a click away.

How to use the comparison engine
Personal

Select ‘personal’ from the Connection Type dropdown and your preferences from the other two dropdown boxes. Also set your preferred data and price ranges using the sliders and press ‘Start’ to return a range of suitable plans.

Business

Select the Business (1-9 Connections) option from the comparison engine Connection Type dropdown. Then, select your preferences from the other two dropdown boxes and set the sliders for your preferred data and price ranges. Press ‘Start’ to return the plans best suited to your needs.

If you are looking to upgrade your old device or simply to find a better deal from any of the major networks or an MVNO partner, Econnex can help make your decision super easy. All you need to do is enter your requirements and preferences into the search engine fields and see what suggestions come up for you.

Your Guide to Choosing the Best Phone Plan

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