Comparing Telstra, Vodafone & the others’ Data plan features

The headline inclusion ( for example ‘2GB !’ ) is really only part of the mobile phone price plan you’re buying.

The phone companies have finally increased the amount of data they are offering with their price plans. But the headline inclusion ( for example ‘2GB !’ ) is really only part of the mobile phone price plan you’re buying. It’s important to understand the rest. The devil is in the detail.
In this article, we’ve compared the voice and data plans offered by the major Australian phone companies. We’ve broken out the key bits of each phone company’s data ‘proposition’ ( that’s internal telco talk for the bits that go beyond the headline data inclusion. ) We’ve put them side by side in this table. Now when you’re comparing Telstra’s 2GB with Vodafone’s 2GB, you know exactly what it means.

When it comes to your phone bill, you’ve never been better off

When it comes to calls, SMS and data, you’re getting a fairer deal now than you ever have on your phone company bill.

You should be feeling relieved. In depth analysis of these plans and data features shows that huge progress has been made when it comes to how fairly you’re treated. When it comes to calls, SMS and data, you’re getting a fairer deal now than you ever have on your phone company bill.

The Australian market is saturated with SIMs already. The phone companies are focusing on reducing ‘churn’, an internal telco measure of the number of customers who get lured away or so angry with their phone company that they leave and go elsewhere. 

What’s more, the price of data keeps getting cheaper every month. The effect is called data deflation – a general decrease in the price of data. It’s such a big trend that we’ve written about it separately. ( See link earlier on this line. ) The constant price reductions are a result of the competition between the major operators and the fact that SIM Only and Prepaid Plans are increasingly being tied together with phones that have either been leased or bought outright. It’s so much cheaper to do it that way, the majority of the market now does things like this.

Features of the data you buy in these plans – and what they mean

Will you get an SMS alert when you reach your plan limit ? If so, when will it arrive ? Let’s take a look at the realities of the plans from each of the major phone companies.

So, your 2GB of data. Is it charged in MB or Kb ? The difference could double ( or halve ) the time it takes to eat through your allowance. Will you get an SMS alert when you reach your plan limit ? If so, when will it arrive ? Let’s take a look at the realities of the plans from each of the major phone companies.

Comparing data plan featuresTelstraOptusVodafone
Per KB chargingYesYesYes
Text alertsYesYesYes
Real time text alertsYesNoNo
First month's data free25GB free first monthNoAs much as you like for the first 2 months.
Sharing data across multiple devices$10 per month per device$5 set up fee for each of up to 5 devices.Free to set up. No monthly charge.
Adding more data to your plan$15 for 1GB. Must be added manually until 12 MayAutomatic. Done in $10 = 1GB additionsAutomatic. Done in $10 = 1GB additions
Out of bundle data$30+ per GB until 12th May then $10 per additional GBNA. Data automatically addedNA. Data automatically added
Access to streamed video content ?Yes. Presto on some postpaid plans. Not currentlyYes. Netflix. $60 or above SIM Only price plansYes. Stan. Details TBD.
Data rolloverNoNoNo

  • Per kB charging :
    Following some public pressure in 2012, all 3 major phone companies now offer per kB charging for their postpaid price plan range. The reason this is important is because of the way your phone interacts with the phone network. Every time your phone connects to the phone company network, you start a ‘data session’. With KB charging, your usage is measured accurately and you are charged precisely for the data you download or upload. With MB charging, your usage is rounded up to the much bigger ( actually, 2014 times bigger ) MB denomination whatever the session’s usage was charging. So, if you have a ‘data session’ during which you just load a 200 kB web page, with kB charging, your data allocation is depleted by 200 kB. With MB charging, that 200 kB is rounded up to 1MB and then removed from your allocation. Anecdotally, some say this has the effect of doubling your practical data usage. Luckily, all 3 of the major phone companies now employ the fairer kB charging methodology.
  • Text alerts :
    Telstra, and Vodafone all offer SMS alerts to their customers. In fact, every telco does. Australian phone companies are now required to send text message alerts to their customers. You must be informed when you’ve hit 50%, 85% and 100% of your price plan inclusion. Unfortunately, if your usage pattern is to use big chunks in one go, you might incur a significant bill and only be notified about your usage long after you incurred it. Which is why the next step is real time text alerts.
  • Real time text alerts :
    Only Telstra have the ability to provide you with real time text alerts and they haven’t been doing it for long. They started in early 2015 following an upgrade to their billing system. Vodafone has never claimed a plan to bring this feature to market at any point in the future.
  • First month’s data free :
    Getting a new SIM often means getting a new phone. And there are very few things as exciting as getting a new phone. People play with new phones, download music, apps and contact lists to them. All of that uses a lot of data. It also happens at a time when you are likely to know the features of your phone least well. In the ‘bad old days’ it would have been possible for you to use all the data in your plan and more. This would then incur overage charges at a rate like $30 or even $100 per GB. That’s not a great start to any relationship, including the one you share with your phone company. As a result, Vodafone and Telstra have adapted their approach and will now give you a ‘bedding in period’ to figure out your data needs. Specifically : Vodafone will offer you 2 months’ ‘free’ data in any quantity when you sign up to a contract with them. Whatever you use in the first 2 months is free. This gives you the time you need to get your phone set up but also to average out a usage requirement and ensure that the plan you’re on meets your data needs.
  • Sharing data across multiple devices :
    There are a couple of ways you can share data across multiple devices. You can insert a SIM in to each of the device you want to connect to the internet. You then give your telco a ring to tie the multiple SIMs on to a single account. There is usually a set up fee for this between $5 and $20 per SIM. Telstra also charge an ongoing monthly management charge for the facility. The alternative is that you ‘tether’ one device against another. For example, you could tether your tablet to the internet through your mobile phone’s internet connection. Tethering is free where it’s allowed.
  • Adding more data to your plan :
    The way it works is that you use your data as usual in your plan. Once you reach the threshold of your allocation, you’re automatically charged another $10 per GB. It could be that this extra $10 is charged on the last day of your bill and that you only ever use 10% of it. Some people would describe this as wasted data. Most people prefer the reliability of knowing that at most their bills will be increased in $10 increments to the possibility that, through overage, they’ll get one for $100 once in a while.
  • Out of bundle data :
    This is about to be a redundant phrase for everything except legacy plans. If you buy a 2GB plan and use it up, something has to happen. The phone company has a number of options. They can stop your service entirely so you don’t get data. That would likely result in a call to their call center and they have to pay for those so this is a rarely employed option. Secondly, they could throttle your service. Again, that could lead to a support call from you to them. It’s also free internet for someone who, in the eyes of the phone company hasn’t paid for it and therefore is not entitled to use it. Again, this option is not often used in Oz. Historically, what happened was that people were charged ‘overage’. Overage is a charge ( some would say at a ‘penal rate’ ) for extra data on top of your bundle. At the time of writing, April 2015, Telstra are the only phone company which charge it and their current rate is slightly more than $30 per GB. Thanks to “Automatic addition of data’ ( see above bullet ) overage charges are no longer applied to newly sold plans. They are likely to be still in place for those who bought theirs a while ago, however. If that includes your plan, you might like to consider upgrading.
  • Access to streamed video content ? :
    SVOD or Streaming Video On Demand is all the rage in Australia in 2015. You can’t turn on a TV or radio without being exposed to advertisements about it. Stan, Presto, Netflix are just three of the major ones. They also happen to be the companies that Vodafone and Telstra ( as well as some others, notably, OVO Mobile )  have partnered with in an effort to add value to their existing plan range. Each of our major telcos offers or soon will offer streamed video content to the handset. But be careful, you will be charged for the data used to deliver those streamed video services !
  • Data rollover :
    This is an increasingly popular price plan inclusion. Make sure you verify the terms and specifics of the deal you sign up to. Data rollover is most common on prepaid plans but the details are not consistent. Of particular importance is understanding the maximum you can roll over each month and whether (if it is prepaid) you need to hold a balance before your unused data can be carried forwards.

So, that’s what each feature means and the details of what you’re buying from your phone company explained. Here’s the helicopter view of these changes and an outline of what might be next.

Summary – What this table tells us

The plans you’re buying are fairer ( per kB charging ), they’re less likely to shock you ( auto addition of data ) and they’re more likely to entertain.

Things have improved a lot in the world of telco when it comes to the value and rip offs you ( used to ) experience. Vodafone’s entire plan base now includes as many minutes and SMS as you want. Data plan inclusions have just been increased, by Telstra at least.

Competition and a desire to reduce the levels of churn they have to maintain profitability and reduce the money spent on customer acquisition is working the way it should. As a result, the plans you’re buying are fairer ( per kB charging ), they’re less likely to shock you ( auto addition of data ) and they’re more likely to entertain you since, these days, they include streamed music or video as part of your service.

There’s still more to do but the phone companies are to be commended. The level of complains about every aspect of phone company service has declined to the TIO. ( The TIO is the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman. When all else fails, they’re the guys you report your telco argument to. )

There’s room for unlimited data plans, better 4G network coverage, network requirements which don’t hit your phone’s battery so hard and so on. But it has to be said that the phone companies have listened when it comes to the classical historic complaints about their service as you can tell from the table.

Sources :

Phone leasing schemes are popping up all over the world. http://time.com/4028327/apple-iphone-upgrade-program/

Details of Optus’ data rollover scheme can be found on their prepaid page : http://www.optus.com.au/shop/mobile/prepaid/plans

Streamed video is an increasingly important part of phone plans. You can see Telstra’s approach here : http://media.telstra.com.au/home.html

Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.