Cheap phone plans have never been more accessible than they are now
We say a phone plan is cheap if it costs under $30 per month. There are cheap mobile plan options, however, on this page which include phone plans which cost as little as $10 per month.
We say a cheap phone plan as one costing less than $30 per month. We want you to have not only a cheap first month but a reliably low bill. The advice we give on this page does not include introductory offers and makes clear where additional charges might catch you out. If that all sounds like boot camp, don’t worry. It’s not. We explain everything with images and charts below so you can see the cheapest mobile phone plans visually.
Note: When you compare mobile phone plans, you need to consider the number of days they’re active for. We say ‘a month’ here but include plans with slightly different ‘expiries’. Plans shown on this page may have 28 day expiries, 30 day expiries (prepaid plans) or they may be postpaid which renew on the same day each calendar month.
When shopping for a phone plan in this bracket, we think you should use the following common sense advice to get you going
- Be realistic about what you use:
Consider your actual voice minutes, SMS and data requirements. Here is no escaping your responsibility in being clear on the ways you use your phone. You need to know roughly your monthly data usage, roughly how many calls you make a month and whether international calls are something that is important to you.
- Be prepared to try something new:
We make recommendations on this page around prepaid plans and plans from small phone companies. These sorts of plans tend to offer better value than the big brands you’re likely used to. If you want the cheapest plans, you might have to step outside your comfort zone when it comes to the phone company brand you decide on.
It’s Getting Tougher To Be A Telco. That’s great for you
Telstra’s profits fell 33% last year ; Optus’ fell by 12%. Vodafone made a loss of $242m. The reason they’re suffering is that the industry is lowering prices to attract people like you to their plans. Even Andy Penn, the CEO of Telstra acknowledges it. Competition from smaller phone companies, he says, with “lower cost bases, and agile, innovative business models“ is driving the change. It is these changes which have led to the cheap phone plans you see on this page.
In July last year, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported a 3.8% fall in prices for telecommunications services for the previous 12 months.
Source : Telstra is entering the low-cost mobile market with its budget brand Belong
Changes in entry level plan inclusions
These price reductions don’t actually explain the changes to cheap mobile plans that have happened effectively. Even as price fall each year, phone companies are also offering extra data at each price point. Other changes include
- Lower entry point plans :
New plans have been floated, targeted at the youth market with ‘pocket money’ spend levels.
- New phone companies have entered the market :
You have around 50 phone companies to pick from Moose Mobile and Belong Mobile have both added innovative features and better value to the mix, particularly when it comes to data.
As well as lower entry prices, new phone company options and international calls, coverage has improved for you too with the phone companies spending billions of dollars on their networks.
- Network investments :
The $billion spend levels from Optus and Vodafone have made 4G accessible, at lower prices, to more people, than ever before. Competition has increased data allowances. On a cheap phone plan, you’re likely to get exactly the same network coverage as anyone on a more expensive version.
Below, we point out these changes, suggesting the cheapest mobile phone plans which have the inclusions you need. We also provide guidance on how you can keep your plan cheap after you’ve signed up by avoiding unnecessary data overage and additional charges.
What you won’t get
In some ways, you get what you pay for. There are some services that most cheap phone plans just won’t provide you.
- You’ll probably have to pay extra for International calls :
The cost of international calls in phone plans came down a lot last year. You will still struggle to get decent plan inclusions for calls from within Australia to other phones around the world, for under $25.
- No entertainment services :
Content and entertainment in phone plans is an increasingly prevalent inclusion. The plans which offer this sort of inclusion tend to be more expensive than $25 per month.
The key to good value plans is trying a smaller phone company (MVNO)
You may not know it but there are around 50 phone companies in Australia. Smaller phone companies give you what you need – clear, simple plans with lots of data at a low price.
However, people can be nervous about moving to a smaller phone company : In a recent survey of phone plan users, we asked : Would you consider buying a phone plan from an unknown / lesser known brand if it was cheaper and offered the same service and benefits? Approximately 45% of people would consider buying from a smaller phone company Of that 43%, 24% said they would need a bit of reassurance. Here’s some reassurance :
- Smaller phone companies are good bets for the best mobile phone plans :
Once you try them, you’ll realize that there was nothing to worry about. These phone companies are regulated in the same way the big phone companies are so you won’t get ripped off.
Generally, small phone companies offer better value for money.
- You can keep your phone number :
In Australia, you’ve had the facility to move phone companies and keep your phone number for 20 years. If you want to move to a smaller phone company, you’ll be able to take your phone number with you.
- They mostly sell month to month agreements :
Smaller phone companies tend to offer SIM Only plans – either prepaid plans or postpaid SIM Only. These are almost always month to month agreements. That means that you can leave if it doesn’t work out.
- They often have better customer service than the big phone companies :
Let’s face it, you probably don’t actually like the phone company you’re with anyway. Most people have had at least one bad customer service experience with one of the big phone companies they’ve signed up to over the years. Independent research shows that smaller phone companies often have better customer service than the big ones.
- They use exactly the same networks :
Any phone company which uses the Optus or Vodafone network uses the same towers and masts as you’d get if you went direct to the big phone company. For example, if you choose OVO Mobile who use the Optus 3G and 4G network, you’ll use the whole, entire Optus network. There’s no prioritization of their traffic over your call when you’re with OVO. You’ll be connected in the same way and get the same data speeds as someone who stood next to you and used the Optus network.
- Telstra resellers do not get the same network :
The one exception to this rule is that Telstra customers do get broader 3G coverage than any other user. Even the phone companies which sell the Telstra network only get a cut down version of it. They often say in our listings that they sell ‘a part of the Telstra 3G / 4G network.’
Awareness of these options is clearly increasing
The fact that people automatically compare their options when they’re looking for a cheap plan, the number of alternatives which are available and the the never ending list of promotional offers to lure new customers in all contribute to an exodus from the big phone companies. Where Optus, Telstra and Vodafone have focused their business on offering value adds, the growth in the Australian market for cheap plans is coming from low cost operators.
Vodafone, Telstra and Optus tend to focus more on value adds rather than cheap phone plans. Around 45% of people took a cheap plan instead of going to one of the big 3.
Around half of people who took a new plan in the first 6 months of last year got a SIM / plan from a low cost operator. This, perhaps surprising statistic indicates that people are finally figuring out the best way to optimize their plans. This is an extreme change in a small amount of time. For the last few years, these smaller phone companies have made up a much smaller proportion of the market. Most of them target the $30 and below spend level. That means the fastest growth is happening amongst cheap phone plans.
Cheaper phone plans with introductory and promotional offers are the motivation behind most people’s moves to low cost operators.
Obviously, the biggest factor to consider is data
Unlimited voice and SMS inclusions start in phone plans under the $15 spend per month these days. That means the primary thing people are looking for, when they pick cheap mobile plans is data.
The key thing to know, when you’re considering your data requirements is that the average amount of data people are using is increasing each year at a rate of about 70%.
So, how much data do you need ? Well, we asked people that and the answer was remarkably varied. Take a look at this chart.
The mean average data usage is around 6GB per month. The best phone plans in Australia will provide you that data allocation. Unfortunately, if you are a high data usage – let’s say above 6GB per month, you are probably not going to find a plan which gives you what you need. You might like to consider our best phone plans page – and to spend a little more.
If you need to, we show you how to figure out your data requirements.
Consider these things when you compare mobile phone plans
- Your data usage will probably ‘sneak up on you’ :
People find it really hard to anticipate exponential growth in any circumstance including their phone usage. At a 70% growth level, your data rises by 1300% over 5 years.
- You probably want to consider prepaid plans and month to month agreements :
Avoiding contracts with the phone companies means that you can constantly stay on more affordable agreements. As your data usage rises, a prepaid plan, for example, is likely to keep pace with your needs. Phone companies tend to add more data every few months to prepaid and month to month SIM Only plans.
Here’s what will happen if you don’t keep pace with the way your data usage is growing. People who lose track of their data usage exceed their data inclusion and incur a $10 fee per GB for overage.
Features of cheap phone plans you may not have considered
Whatever phone plan you buy, the fundamentals are as important as the price. You’re going to want good coverage, to be a happy customer and to get decent customer service. Luckily, those things are all available to you. It may not have occurred to you but when you think about it, these facts are quite clear. Whether you’re on a $100 a month plan or something under $30 per month, you’re going to get the same network, the same customer service team and you’re probably going to be just as happy as any other customer on that network.
Let’s start with customer satisfaction. You may well notice a stand out feature of this chart. Small phone companies have higher levels of customer satisfaction than big phone companies.
The bigger they are, the unhappier their customers.
Customer Satisfaction levels are higher among small phone companies
Customer Satisfaction with phone companies is a single number which shows how happy people are with their experience with their phone company. It includes how they feel about the customer service they get when they call a call center, their feelings on the network quality they receive and finally, it includes how they feel about the value associated with their plan.
Customers who choose smaller phone companies almost always feel happier about their decisions than those who go with the big telco brands we are all familiar with. Of course, this applies to the customers they have on their cheaper plans as much as it does to anyone else. Small phone companies, it seems, do a simple job, well.
- They’re smaller :
The likes of Aldi, Amaysim and Vaya have smaller numbers of customers. Each person they deal with gets longer and more personalized service.
- They only sell SIM Only Plans :
The deal is straightforward. No phones are involved in the transaction – and phones can go wrong. There is no bundling of services with confusing discounts or charges.
- They only service consumers, not businesses :
Smaller phone companies sell fewer products. Typically, smaller phone companies only sell consumer focused SIM Only plans – as opposed to fixed broadband, home phone rental, business products and so on. That makes dealing with them
Most people instinctively know which phone companies are at the bottom of the list for customer service.Customer service is a measure of how happy phone company customers are with the service they get when they deal with their phone company. That includes customer service calls – what people do when they have a problem with their phone company service. The bigger phone companies tend to find themselves at the bottom of this sort of report, as you can see.
Smaller phone companies benefit from :
- Better online self service :
Smaller phone companies tend to have fewer high street stores around Australia. Their main customer service connection with their customers is through the Internet. To minimize the money they spend on customer service, smaller phone companies tend to invest heavily in their Self Service apps and web based self service portals. As a result, customers often find that they can resolve their service issues themselves without calling the call center.
- More issues resolved first time :
Again, the smaller product ranges held by smaller phone companies help with customer service issue resolution. It’s easier to troubleshoot one product than many held in parallel by a customer.
The network coverage you’ll get with a cheap plan
There are a couple of critical points to bear in mind when considering the network you need in your cheap phone plan. It’s helpful to think of them in this order, too.
- The difference between 3G coverage and 4G coverage :
Imagine that every big city in Australia had a bright light shone on it from above. The bright bit of what you’d see would be the 4G coverage. And around the cities would be areas less well lit. 3G coverage is a bit like that. Most phones are 4G enabled now and if you live and work in a city, you’ll probably get great 4G coverage, whatever network you’re with. As you’ll see from our info-graphics below, the networks are remarkably similar when it comes to 4G coverage. 3G coverage is a different
- The difference between population coverage and landmass coverage :
Australia has around 23 million people in it and about 32m phone services in operation. Most of the people and so most of the services in operation are congregated around the coast. 70% of people are housed in Australia’s biggest cities.
- Population coverage :
When the phone companies report population coverage they’re showing you the proportion of Australians who are covered with their network. This is the most common measure of coverage you’ll see phone companies produce.
- Landmass covered :
The other measure you’ll see is the proportion of landmass covered by a phone company signal. Australia is such a huge country that covering it all with mobile phone towers is just impractical. Even Telstra only cover 17% of Australia’s landmass with a network signal. )
- How they relate to each other :
Population density falls off quickly as you move away from the cities. That means there are fewer and fewer people every square Kilometer and less money available to phone companies which cover the area. It’s much, much easier to cover 99% of the population than 99% of the countryside.
Here’s how the phone companies compare on coverage. You’ll see what I mean from the charts.
Source: WhatPhone, multiple.
3G population coverage statistics are similar, whichever network you choose. Remember, you’ll get the same coverage with a smaller phone company which uses the Vodafone or Optus network as if you went to them direct.
As you can see in the chart, population coverage is very similar between the 3 major phone companies when it comes to a 3G signal. Even Vodafone covers 96% of the population. This is an important statistic for your cheap phone plan. Whether you buy a SIM from Vodafone / Optus themselves or a smaller phone company, you’ll get the same network signal, speed and priority on the network.
Now compare that with the landmass covered with a signal.
Source: Multiple, WhatPhone
Here’s the secret. Telstra cover around twice the Australian landmass as any other provider. And you probably won’t get a cheap phone plan from them.
Remember how population density falls quickly as you leave the cities ? Well, here’s the effect of that. Telstra cover around twice the landmass of even Optus. There are very few people in all that extra ground so it doesn’t make much of a difference to the population coverage statistics you’ll see.
This is why, if you live in rural areas, you’ve got used to buying Telstra. Although their plans aren’t cheap, in many situations, you don’t have an option.
Real life is a little different to this chart, however. Of course, Optus and Vodafone focus their network rollout on the places there are most people. For example, they tend to build new networks along roads which traverse the country. That means unless you live / spend a lot of time in rural areas, Optus or Vodafone (or the companies which resell their networks) may well be OK for you.
One fact which might surprise you is that even Telstra cover less than 20% of Australia with a signal. The country continent is so huge, even they have to draw the line at an agreed level of population density.
Finally, let’s have a look at 4G coverage.
Source : Multiple, WhatPhone.
With 4G, there is little to choose between the main networks.
When it comes to superfast data speeds, Optus, Vodafone and Telstra all have very similar speeds and coverage statistics.
Keeping your cheap phone plan under $30 per month
When you get a cheap phone plan, you’re going to want to avoid those extra data charges. Here are the steps we’d recommend. It’s not at all hard.
- Use your phone company’s Self Service App : Downloading and installing a phone company app could not be simpler. It’s the first and most important thing we would recommend you do if you want to minimize your bills in an ongoing way. Apps are all free from the Google Play or iTunes store and they all do very much the same thing. You can track your usage and buy extra services cheap ( like more data if you need it ) rather than paying exorbitant out of bundle rates.
- Track your usage – especially data :
Both Android and iOS phones now allow you to measure your data usage through their settings. Or, again, you can use the app from your phone company. Here’s why it’s important.
- Be smart about how you use your phone :
There are a number of ways you can work around unnecessary charges. Install, update your contacts and get as much use as you can out of WiFi calling apps. Viber, Skype over WiFi won’t cost you a penny when your monthly bill arrives.
- Keep it cheap when you can – with WiFi for data where possible :
Make the most of free data over WiFi at home. Tune in to WiFi when you’re out and about. Think about whether you really need to watch that cat video using your cellular connection. Some simple ‘mindfulness’ about the costs of data can minimize the wastage of your plan.
Most people only need cheap mobile plans
It’s a general rule, when it comes to products, that the lazier you are, the more you’ll pay: Think mortgage, car insurance and phone plan. A willingness to undertake a small amount of research in to the ways phone plans have changed over the last 12 months delivers some incredible results.
Industry trends are your friends when you compare mobile phone plans. Considering a smaller phone company might be new to you but there’s nothing to worry about (see our section above which will reassure you about the ‘risk’ you’ll take by going to one. With a smaller phone company, you’ll get more data for your money. You’ll need to know how to figure out your data usage. and then we advise you take some simple steps to stay on top of your usage, remembering it will increase over time.
An increasing number of people are choosing inexpensive plans and either holding on to their phone longer or buying a new one outright and adding a SIM. The balance of power is constantly shifting in your favor and away from the bigger phone companies. Cheap Chinese phones are available now from high street stores and even supermarkets.
It won’t be long before everyone has this sort of phone plan.
Sources for data growth information :
Source for proportion of people taking a cheap plan from a low cost operator: