Getting the right Prepaid Plan for Xmas 2017
Christmas is one of the busiest times of the year for phone companies. More prepaid plans are sold at Christmas than at any other time. Christmas 2017 is going to be no exception. Many are provided to children, alongside their first phone, as a present under the tree.
It’s been a year of change for phone plans. In this article, we will lay out the key changes that have happened since Santa’s last visit – and tell you how they may impact your choice of phone plan. Then we’ll give you the key insights in to the best prepaid plans on the market.
Xmas Prepaid – what’s changed since last year?
There have been some material changes in the Australian prepaid market. Competition has lowered the price of data. Innovation by phone companies, particularly smaller phone companie, (known in the industry as MVNOs) has made plans fairer than they’ve ever been, in an effort to secure your dollar.
Here are the major movements in prepaid plans over the last 12 months and what they mean to the plan you’ll get this year.
- Almost all prepaid phone plans now come with ‘Unlimited Voice’ inclusions: Almost all phone plans now have unlimited voice and SMS inclusions. Unlimited plans start at around $15. That means pretty much whatever phone plan you buy, the person you’re buying for will be able to call anyone they want to in Australia for as long as they want to, from their mobile.
- It’s all about data:
The reason they’re giving that voice and SMS value away for such a low price, is that people mostly compare the data inclusions in their plans these days. One of the things that changed in 2017 is the fact that bigger phone companies like Optus, Telstra and Vodafone, have stepped up the level of data inclusions at each price point, substantially. Compare the prepaid deals we have on our dedicated prepaid page and you will see that data allocations have approximately doubled since last Christmas, for the same spend.
- 4G networks are all very similar:
Most people think Telstra have the best 4G network. Recent statistics show that this is not the case at all.
- Smaller phone companies are now around half of all new sales:
The bigger phone companies have finally opened up their 4G networks to smaller phone companies. Lower prices and the same network coverage mean that now, an incredible 50% of Australians buy their phone plans from small phone companies.
- Average data usage is rising fast:
As you can see from our chart, below, a number of sources show that the average amount of data people use is rising at a rate of about 70% per year. We have advice on how to manage your data allocation and avoid unnecessary fees, below.
- Some prepaid phone plans now include free streaming audio:
If you have a family member who loves music and/or listens to Spotify, IHeartRadio or Google’s own internet music service, then you know someone who is in to streaming audio. Many phone companies now provide streamed audio services in a way which means the data consumed in delivering them does not come out of your data allowance. This can lower bills and should influence your choice of carrier if you’re buying from someone who uses these streamed audio services.
- People are holding on to their phone longer:
Phone fatigue is setting in. The new iPhone ‘s killer feature was essentially, an ‘OK’ face as a password facility and cost $800 more than last years. Phone fatigue is where people just can’t be bothered changing their device for a newer one.
- The prices of international calls continue to decline:
Just as domestic calls become cheaper every year, the migration of users to Skype, Whatsapp and other alternatives to circuit switched voice calls means that International call inclusions get cheaper every year. You’ll find international calls in many prepaid plans from as little as $30 a month.
- Christmas is when the kids want a phone:
An incredible number of phones (some estimates suggest that 50% of children will be gifted a device) are bought for children in the run-up to Xmas.
The same great stuff which makes prepaid better value
Prepaid plans make great gifts because they show generosity and consideration. This is why prepaid plans are a great investment for Christmas.
- Prepaid plans are cheaper overall:
It’s often much more affordable to buy the phone yourself and add a prepaid SIM than it is to get a phone under contract.
- Prepaid plans are flexible & predictable:
You can move between plans and operators, typically, every 28 days. You know what you’re going to spend and, unless you decide to top the service up, you know you are never going to exceed the plan limit. This feature of phone plans is particularly useful when you’re trying to manage the phone usage behaviour of a child who may not be fully aware of the ramifications of some of their usage behaviour.
Prepaid plan gift ideas:
Our advice, when picking a prepaid plan for Xmas is to consider the person you’re buying for. We have prepaid options on each networ, which will make great Xmas presents, here:
- Recharge every 30 days.
- 3G + 4G from Vodafone
- 12 Months
- 3G + 4G from Optus
- Month to month
- 4G from Optus
- 28 days
- 4G from Telstra
- Are you worried about what they might get up to on the internet?
OVO Mobile’s $9.95 plan is prepaid and offers parental locking controls. Parental locking software is provided free of charge, as part of this plan. It allows you to set a list of websites you don’t want your child to have access to when they go online from their phone. It also lets you automatically turn off data to the device at a reasonable bedtime – for example, 10PM. It comes with a pocket money sized data allocation of 1GB of data and, like all of OVO’s plans has heaps of extras. OVO use the Optus 3G and 4G network.
- Do they just want to minimize their plan costs?
Kogan Mobile offer some of the best value prepaid price plans on the market at the moment. Kogan use the Vodafone 4G network which has improved beyond recognition since it’s difficulties back in 2010, as our chart above shows you.
- Do they love Australian sport, or listening to the radio?
If you’re buying a prepaid SIM plan for a friend or family member who likes racing cars or watching them, there is an incredible gift available to you. Check our full OVO Mobile review. OVO Mobile are a new type of phone company. Not only do they offer some of the best value out there on the Optus 3G + 4G network, they also provide their users free access to unlimited Australian Gymnastics, Drag Racing (and other, often supercar related) content. Just imagine giving your son or husband a SIM card which gave them a video of every Drag Race race! And the data you use to watch those races is free of charge.
- Do they want access to the Telstra Mobile network:
For some, having the Telstra network is a must. Boost Mobile have a suite of prepaid plans which have just been updated to include simpler and larger data allocations.
Alternatives to Prepaid plans
Prepaid plans are the most sold plan type at Christmas time. But they’re not the only thing that’s available and they are not right for everyone.
- PAYG :
PAYG or ‘Pay As You Go’ plans make up a small but important part of the market. If you’re buying a SIM for a family member and they make one call per day or less, PAYG plans might be the cheapest option.
- SIM Only (postpaid ):
Vaya Mobile (who, like OVO, use the Optus network ) and Belong Mobile (who, like Boost Mobile, use the Telstra Mobile Network) are smaller phone companies which offer good data allocations. They offer SIM Only, not prepaid plans so you’d need to be able to pass a credit check to get one. Vaya even offer a unique ‘price match’ promise.
Not sure where to start ?
If you’re not sure where to begin, that’s OK. Here are some ideas to get you going.
- Use our chooser:
We offer a simple tool (which we call a chooser) to users who don’t know where to begin. Select your answers to some basic questions and we will show you a list of plans which are likely to be right for you. See our chooser now.
- Download our pack:
We maintain a pack of the core information our visitors need to pick a phone plan. This pack explains the key facts you need to know and every confusing technical term on this page. Download it now, for free, print it off and use it as your buddy for finding a plan. You can find our pack further up this page.
- Get the kids to do the comparisons:
If this is their first SIM and phone combination, the best advice you can give your kids is to compare their phone plan every few months. Being aware of their options will ensure that, as their data usage rises, they have it provided free, rather than paying for it as ‘overage’ on their prepaid plan.
Things to remember on top of the Christmas Prepaid Plan itself:
- Get them thinking about data management:
(Almost) every phone company now has a Self Service app that can help you manage your Christmas prepaid plan gift. They’re free to download, easy to use and give you the core information you need to be able to effectively manage your service.
- Careful about hidden fees:
Incredibly, many people still suffer bills which are higher than they expected. Do a bit of research and find out what is and is not included in your plan. We’ve provided links to dozens of additional articles which can help, including this one on hidden fees.
- Consider a mobile broadband SIM for the family:
Mobile Broadband data plans have exploded in 2017. A broad range is now available, across multiple networks, offering comparable pricing and speeds to the NBN, without the lack of reliability.
What about the Christmas and New Year’s Eve Usage Surge?
Right now, the telcos will be in the process of trying to anticipate what’s likely to happen this Christmas and New Year in terms of the demand for their services. From the customer side, you’ll probably also be wondering if your provider is going to do as well this Christmas and New Year as it did last. Christmas is such a busy time for Prepaid Plans, the phone companies have to dedicate a lot of thought to making sure that the plan you buy can be activated and on the network throughout the public holidays which happen over the period.
The festive system is when you and other consumers are likely to use your prepaid services the most. Unknowingly, every time you connect to their network, you will be testing the reliability of your chosen providers.
The telcos don’t know exactly what is likely to happen as any sudden upsurge in usage, particularly data, can have a tremendous effect on your experience. You’re likely to remember and tell your friends if you have a problem. However, last Christmas and New Year’s Eve network connections worked favorably for mobile users because the telcos just about got it right. That means you probably won’t have to worry about anything this year either.
Bigger Surge in Demand Expected This Year
The telcos have rarely seen a fall in use over time, so if 2015 to 2016 is anything to go by there is likely to be an even greater surge in network usage from 2016 to 2017. It is expected that the telcos will be well prepared to deal with the sudden influx of use of all the mobile communication tools such as text messages, data usage and phone calls through their apps, Wi-Fi hotspots, and portable cells.
The Use of Cells on Wheels (COWs) Makes its Debut
According to Vodafone, the last festive season saw text messages more than double from 1.5 million to 3.2 million per hour between midnight and the early morning of January 1st. If you are a Vodafone subscriber the company was ready for the upsurge and provided more resources and infrastructure which included the use of cells on wheels (COWs), so that their customers throughout the holiday period were able to maintain constant communication.
A ‘COW’ is a portable cellular tower which includes mobile wireless communication equipment that has cellular antennas and electronic radio transceiver equipment. The COW network can be enabled through a variety of means, such as satellite, microwave or wired infrastructure. It’s an economical option for a telco in times of need, when it wouldn’t be financially sensible to permanently upgrade permanently facilities just for the sake of a short-term surge in demand which customarily happens over festive periods. It’s the sort of thing they would put near the harbour bridge, on New Years’ Eve, to make sure the network functioned OK as everyone sent their New Years Facebook messages of goodwill.
Leading up to last year’s festive season Vodafone had completed its 850MHz spectrum re-farming in Canberra, Sydney and Queensland, in order to vamp up its 4G coverage and deliver faster speeds for its customers. It also activated its 850MHz 4G coverage to 235 places throughout Queensland. This lower spectrum band has the capability of penetrating buildings, so along with the use of its 1,800MHz spectrum band, the company managed to have at the ready faster and better 4G coverage. With all these upgrades by the New Year, Vodafone had 96% of Australia’s metropolitan area covered by 4G.
Telstra Won Out Last New Year Too
If you were a Telstra subscriber, the company was also ready for its 11.5 million text messages that were sent over its network from 11 pm on the 31st December to 2am on the 1st January. Overall, 900,000GB of data was downloaded over that period, which was double the amount downloaded at the previous year’s facilities. (See what we mean about the amount of data people use increasing?) At least 57 million text messages were sent, and nearly 40 million mobile phone calls were made during New Year’s Eve.
The amount of data that was downloaded on New Year’s Eve was equivalent to a single person watching 90 years of high-definition(HD) content without stopping. The reason for this amount of usage is due to people sending so many photos and videos of celebrations to relatives and friends alike across the globe. Telstra had already earmarked how to face the challenge by encouraging its users to download on to their devices the Sydney NYE Telstra app, which allowed customers who have an Australian mobile number to pre-load fifty text messages. When the bell struck at midnight and all those messages were sent for free. This sort of planning helped Telstra know when the upsurge in use was to take place so they could be well prepared.
Telstra did some other wheeler dealing last year, as it gained exclusive rights to stream the New Year’s Eve fireworks displays in Sydney through the use of its app, its channel on YouTube and its website. The telco filmed the fireworks through the use of a 360o camera rigged up from a number of vantage points, which included the south pylon on the Harbour Bridge. Telstra also encouraged its customers to use Telstra Air hotspots throughout New Year’s Eve. Earlier in 2015 it had turned 2,600 public payphones into Wi-Fi hotspots. Telstra’s Network Engineering team said that after Christmas Day last year it had experienced record data usage and text message use and it was ready for the explosion in usage for NYE.
With all the successes at last year’s festive season, the telcos should be well prepared for the inevitable at both Christmas and New Year this year.
Summing up Prepaid Plans for Xmas 2017
2017 has been an enormous year for Australian phone plans. You’ve never been given more data, delivered in a fairer way, for your money. The price of calls has fallen, and the extras you’ll get in your phone plan, from zero rated (data free) video content, to free streamed audio provide ever more enticing reasons to move your phone plan provider.
Most prepaid plans sold at Christmas are destined for children, many of whom are receiving their first phone. It’s the perfect time to offer some education as well as a subsidized way to stay in touch with them and keep them safe.
So, what does 2018 hold in store ? This year could be the last year we have to worry about data. Next year could see the ‘advent’ of unlimited data plans, if our analysis of TPG’s intentions is anything to go by. Amazon has finally launched in Australia. If history is anything to go by, new phone companies will launch and prices will drop further.
Buying a prepaid plan this Christmas means you won’t be tied in to a contract. As the market evolves and new deals appear, you’ll be able to move again. And maybe buy a phone with the money you saved with this year’s prepaid plan.
The ACCC is cracking down on the speed claims the telcos make: https://www.accc.gov.au/media-release/accc-to-monitor-australias-broadband-performance