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 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 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 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
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.
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
How do I compare plans with Econnex?
Econnex makes it simple to compare plans. Using the Econnex engine, just input whether you’re looking for a new handset or not, if you prefer post-paid or pre-paid, your typical data and call usage, and if you own a business. We’ll then show you plans suited to your budget and requirements. Best of all, you can sign up on the spot without any interruption to your day.
I am running a business and need many mobile connections, can I get a comparison?
Yes. We can show you all the best new handset or are SIM Only Post Paid plans for business. To find plans that suit your requirements, select the Business option from the comparison engine Connection Type dropdown. You can select up to nine new handsets. You can adjust your preferences from the other two dropdown boxes. Then you need to set the sliders for your preferred data and price ranges, and press ‘Start’ to begin your comparison and to start saving.
What is the difference between SIM and Mobile + SIM plan?
A SIM plan is a mobile phone plan that does not include a handset. If you have a device but you want to find a better deal on your mobile phone plan, you can opt for a SIM only plan. These are cheaper than most mobile + SIM plans, as you do not have to pay off any handset.
How do I know I have the best plan?
The best plan must suit your needs and your budget. Using EConnex and inputting your preferences, you will know if you have the best plan when:
- The monthly price is the lowest
- The features on offer is the highest
- The overall value is “unbeatable” by other comparable plans.
For you, a large amount of data is preferable than unlimited calls. If you can get 10GB of data for $10 instead of 9GB for $15, the first plan would be the best plan for you. This is up to individual preferences according to whether you need a SIM only or a new handset, the variations in many different Android devices such as high-end “flagship” and “budget” devices, where the budget-end uses less powerful processors or cameras.
You also know you’re getting the best plan as Econnex is independent; we don’t take commissions from network operators or MVNOs to skew results in their favour. We also show you savings compared to your own plan in real dollar terms, not in discounts or other deliberately confusing amounts.
What is an MVNO?
MVNO stands for Mobile Virtual Network Operator. MVNOs are small mobile service providers that lease bandwidth from the “Big Three” networks – Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. They do not operate the cell towers and network infrastructure like the “Big Three” and can pass on any savings on administration, infrastructure, and operating retail stores on to the consumer. MVNOs can also offer reduced speed 3G plans that may be suitable for those who do not need or want data connections.
Should I use an MVNO or a network operator?
This decision should be based on personal preference, price, and value. MVNOs lease space on the network so your network quality and speeds will be tied to one of the big three. Other factors you must consider are customer service – some MVNOs do not have onshore or real-time customer service – and prices comparable to connecting with the network directly. These prices and additions are all reflected in the EConnex comparisons.
What is the difference between post-paid and pre-paid?
Post paid means you pay your bills in arrears; that means you pay for your service after you have used it. Your usage is tallied up every month and a bill sent to you to bring your account back into balance. A pre-paid service means paying for your service in advance; you are given a set period or dollar value to use the network and included calls or data and must “top up” or “recharge” when your balance reaches zero.
What does owning a phone “outright” mean?
Owning a phone outright means paying for a handset in full without a contract or lease from a network operator. Most post paid mobile contracts include a handset cost in the package, which pays off the phone over 12 or 24 monthly instalments. Buying a phone direct from a retailer or manufacturer means you only need a SIM card to get it on the network. This means you can choose any network you wish as it will be “factory unlocked.”
What are the differences between the networks?
There are three Australian mobile networks in Australia – Telstra, Optus and Vodafone. All three networks cover approximately 99% of Australia’s population with Vodafone being the lowest of the three at 96%. These networks all operate their own network infrastructure independently of each other. Telstra as of November 2019 has been rolling out 5G services in limited city-central test markets such as Sydney and Melbourne.
What is a “contract” plan?
A contract plan is a type of post paid plan that requires you to sign an agreement for 12 to 24 months with a network operator or mobile service provider. This covers your payment schedule, handset costs, and any associated fees for cancelling the contract. Cancelling the contract may mean paying out the remainder of the phone’s value, as most contracts do not allow you to own the phone “outright” until the contract has concluded.
What is Android?
Android is the name of the operating system developed by Google for mobile phones. Android is based on Linux, an open source PC operating system that is known for its low hardware requirements and stability. Android is also open source, which means developers and handset manufacturers can modify the system to suit their model of phones. Android is found in tablets and some laptops such as Chromebooks. It is the main competitor to iOS, found exclusively in Apple mobile products.
I already have a mobile phone and want to keep it. Can I get a new plan?
Yes. Those who already have a handset and own it outright can get a new SIM only plan. If you do not own your handset outright, you may want to check with your current provider as to what your obligations are in terms of paying out your contract. Changing your contract without permission may result in early termination fees.
What does SIM cards do? Do I need one to get a mobile?
SIM Cards, or Subscriber Identity Modules, are the small microchips you insert into any cellular mobile device – these could be mobile phones, tablets, or even hotspots and laptops – to identify you (the subscriber) on the network. These allow the network to route calls and data to your device and bill you accordingly. All mobile phones require a SIM card of some type, otherwise you will not be able to connect to the network. SIM cards will also need to be activated by your network before you may use that SIM card.
What is “SIM Card Unlocked” ?
Some post paid plans by providers “lock” a SIM card to a network so it cannot be transferred to another network without authorisation from that network provider. This practice was common in the infancy of the mobile phone market, though most providers will now sell their mobile phones “unlocked” or offer an unlock code for free.
What is 4G? What is 5G?
4G stands for “fourth generation” of cellular network technology, the successor to 3G. 4G refers to the technologies and data transmission speeds one can expect from their cellular network. The peak speed requirement for a 4G network is 100 megabits per second or 12.5 megabytes per second when moving. Stationary speeds should reach 1 gigabits per second. 5G is the next generation of cellular network technology with an expected speed of 2 gigabits per second. 5G is still under research and development in most countries.
I want a post paid plan. Will the provider check my credit?
Yes. A provider will conduct a routine credit check to assess your creditworthiness or ability to pay off a loan, as contracts allow you to take possession of a phone before you have paid it all off to a network operator. You must consent to any credit check a network operator makes on your behalf, as credit checks can affect your credit history.
What is international roaming?
International roaming is the ability for your SIM to connect to networks overseas and be recognised across a cellular network.
International roaming can have extremely high costs compared to using a domestic network. However, the advantage is you can use your mobile in another country without buying a new SIM card. All your calls will be routed to your mobile as if you are still within Australia. Some network operators and retailers offer international roaming bundles or reciprocal network roaming deals that can be purchased as after-market extras. Contact your provider for more information.
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