These 3G Phone Plans Are All You Need

Here’s the 60 second guide :

If you get a 3G SIM Only deal from a smaller phone company, you can save about 50% per month.

  • 3G phones are older phones.
  • Not sure whether your phone is 3G or 4G ? You can find out if your phone is 3G or 4G with a quick Google search.
  • 3G phones have been superseded by phones which have a faster ( 4G ) data connection.
  • Big phone companies like Vodafone, Virgin, Optus and Telstra charge you extra money in their plans for 4G speeds. They charge you whether or not your phone can receive 4G data speeds.
  • This is actually astounding since the majority of people still have 3G phones.
  • There are a significant number of reasons that having a 3G phone still makes sense. ( We list those below. )
  • The key reason it makes sense to get a 3G plan is this : If you get a 3G SIM Only deal from a smaller phone company, you can save about 50% per month on the equivalent plan from a major phone company. We’ve got some infographics below to explain that better.
  • The 3G plans we recommend are also below, on this page.

Introduction and a bit more detail on how 3G and 4G plans work

More than 50% of people still have a 3G phone, even now.

These days, 3G is the lowest level of technology you’ll get in any newly acquired phone. 3G phones are just normal phones which have a slightly slower data connection than their 4G equivalents. We’ve gone in to some depth previously on both 3G and 4G so we won’t repeat that here.

Why does 4G data cost more than 3G data ?

In many areas of our lives, we’re used to paying more for better service and higher speeds. We pay more to get a letter delivered first class than second class. We know fast cars cost more than slower cars. Sending a package by courier costs more if you want it there next day. The data you buy in a phone company plan can be considered analogous. It might be helpful to think of 3G as regular unleaded fuel. 4G data then offers speeds which you could consider to be the equivalent of super unleaded fuel.

From the phone company’s perspective, 4G data costs more than 3G data because each requires a network upgrade. Optus, Telstra and Vodafone spend billions of dollars each year maintaining and upgrading their network infrastructure.

The big phone companies charge you for 4G anyway

You’ll be charged whether or not your phone can even receive 4G data speeds.

Incredibly, the big phone companies ( in Australia, that means Optus, Telstra and Vodafone ) charge everyone for 4G. That means that, as a customer, you’ll be charged whether or not your phone is using 4G data. In fact, you’ll be charged whether or not your phone can even receive 4G data speeds.

More than 50% of people still have a 3G phone, even now.

Until 2011 and the release of the iPhone 5, 3G data was the latest thing. Up until that point and for the previous 5 – 10 years depending on where you were in the world, the best data delivery technology was 3G. Now, 4 years on from the first 4G device, finding a plan with 3G data built in to it rather than 4G isn’t always easy. You certainly won’t get one from those big phone companies.

Phone companies are more focused on the proportion of their customers who have moved ‘up’ to 4G than those remaining on 3G. 4G customers use more data and they do it in a way which is more efficient for the phone companies. In mid August 2015 Optus, as a midpoint, reported that 37% of their customers on 4G and are just about to close their 2G network. It can reasonably be assumed then that more than 50% of people still have a 3G phone, even now.

When you do find a 3G plan and when you have a 3G phone, putting them together is the closest thing that the industry has to a pricing loophole. 3G plans start at lower prices than their 4G equivalents. 3G plans cost around 50% as much as plans from the major phone companies. If you use your phone primarily for voice calls and SMS, you might want a 3G plan anyway just to save the money on a data service you’re not interested in using.

What’s more, there are choices on each of the 3 major networks’ 3G data infrastructure : You can get a 3G plan on Optus, Vodafone and Telstra, you just have to know where to look.

The reasons it makes sense to use a 3G phone

3G is older technology but it can absolutely make sense to get a 3G plan. People who buy 4G plans and phones are, even now, early adopters. One of the definitions of early adopters is that they are prepared to pay more for new technology.

There are those for whom a phone represents a useful tool rather than a fashion statement. Many of these people, in fact, as we’ve said, the majority of people overall, have 3G phones. 3G phones themselves are cheaper and the plans are too.

  • Your voice and SMS will be the same :
    You will get the same minimum standard of phone call and SMS delivery whatever plan you’re on. Whether you are on an older / cheaper 3G phone or a newer / more expensive 4G phone talking and texting will be the same. If this is all you do or even most of what you do then choosing a 3G plan makes sense.
  • The customer support you get will be exactly the same :
    Whether you are a 3G or a 4G customer, the level of customer support you get from your phone company will be the same. There are no different support queues with longer waits for 3G customers than there are for 4G customers. You’ll be put through and helped just as thoroughly if you have a 3G phone.
  • Your data bundle will last longer :
    It’s true ! Even if a 3G phone and a 4G phone have a data bundle of the same size on their plan ( say both have a 2GB data plan ), the 3G one will last longer. Network reports and industry analysis says this occurs for two reasons. First, since everything is a bit slower, people don’t access their data services as often and when they do, they don’t access them for as long. Second, there are a number of web services which judge the speed of your connection before they determine how much data to send you. A great example is YouTube. If you go to the same YouTube clip on a 3G phone, you’ll see it at a lower resolution ( and therefore consume less data ) than if you accessed it on a 4G phone.
  • 3G is fast enough for most :
    3G worked fine for most people in Australians for years. It launched in 2005 or so, depending on the phone company you’re talking about and stayed in place until now. You can watch video streamed over YouTube and downloading a music file will take a couple of minutes, which is fast enough for most people.
  • Coverage is wider :
    3G networks have been around longer and cover larger areas of Australia than 4G networks. You can see the exact statistics on our coverage page. Even 4G phone users will roll back to the 3G network when they are outside 4G coverage. That means they’ve paid more to get the same speeds as you with your 3G phone !
  • It’ll work just as well when you’re in WiFi :
    Around half of all the data that people use on their phones is transacted over a Wi-Fi network rather than the phone companies’ cellular networks. When you’re at home, in a coffee shop or at work and hooked on to the WiFi network, a 3G phone will give you access to exactly the same WiFi network and browsing experience as a 4G phone
  • You may get 3.5G :
    Even 3G networks are getting faster all the time. As traffic moves across from the 3G network to a 4G network, those that remain on 3G have more network allocated to each of them. If you’ve got the right kind of phone, and provider, you’ll even find that you get 3.5G speeds which are sometwhere between 3G and 4G speeds.
Comparing 3G, 3.5G and 4G


  • You’ll get a huge data allocation :
    Dollar for Dollar you’ll get far more for your money on a 3G plan than you will with a 4G plan.

Reasons 3G has been superceeded

No-one is suggesting that 3G is the best technology available. 4G is better overall ( if a lot more expensive ) and here’s why.

  • 3G does not do ‘data first’ well :
    If data is your primary reason for getting the SIM, 3G may not be right for you. For an increasing number of people, data is their primary consideration when choosing a plan. This is especially true if you’re talking about mobile broadband subscriptions. We would not recommend 3G for a mobile broadband plan.
  • The experience of 3G is not as good as the experience of 4G :
    Video may stop / stutter. Maps may load more slowly. Generally, thing work more smoothly on a 4G phone.


Summing up

Phone companies are part of the never ending technological march in to the future. 5G ( the successor to 4G ) is coming with traffic prioritization for driver less cars and emergency services. 4G phones get cheaper all the time and they do offer a better experience.

In the meantime, being slightly behind the technology adoption curve can work to your advantage. Choose one of Australia’s MVNOs or phone resellers and you’ll often find yourself paying 50 % of what you would for a 3G plan than if you went to one of the big boys.


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.