Hmm. Vodafone. Really ? Can I trust the network ?
If you live in one of Australia’s main cities, then yes, you should be considering Vodafone Australia. In rural areas, you probably shouldn’t.
Historic concerns about the network are understandable. Back in 2011, Vodafone did have some real problems with their coverage quality. Things have improved a lot since then. Regular reports from OpenSignal (an independent research company which compares the quality of the 3 main networks) and others have shown consistently that Vodafone’s network quality and speed was the best of the big three in metro (city) areas of Australia.
You’ll get the same network whether you go direct to Vodafone or buy a SIM from one of their resellers like Kogan Mobile.
How does the ‘add more data automatically’ plan feature work ?
Vodafone have matched Optus by allowing you to set your plan to automatically add another GB of data if you use your entitlement. Say you bought 1.0 GB of data within your plan and then used it all. Vodafone would charge you $10 extra for another GB of data and automatically apply it to your account.
Previously, you’d get to the end of your data allowance and then you would be charged out of bundle rates. Often a MB of data would have cost in the region of 10 cents. Which doesn’t sound like a lot until you realise that’s $100 per GB!
The benefit to users of this sort of pricing scheme is that they get a more predictable costs and a transparently fairer scheme.
In mid 2018, Vodafone offered their customers the options of a ‘pass’ for some data usage types. For example, you can now buy a pass which offers unlimited access to Social Media or Streamed Music. We explain Vodafone passes in the article, below.
Are there any smaller phone companies who use the Vodafone network ?
Yes there are. Smaller phone companies or MVNOs as they’re known in the industry rent network access directly from Vodafone and resell it to you.
What is the Vodafone $5 roaming deal ?
Vodafone have the strongest roaming offering of all 3 major networks. With the right Vodafone plan, you can use your Australian entitlements in partner countries. Using your phone overseas is called roaming.
An Australian who buys a Vodafone plan with Unlimited calls to Australian numbers from your mobile in Australia. The plan also includes 10GB of 4G data.
If that same person goes to New Zealand for a holiday. While they’re there, for $5 a day, they can call back to Australia and using the unlimited minute allocation to do it. They can also use their data allowance in NZ ( up to the 10GB limit they had in their plan ) while they’re in NZ.
Every day you have your phone on in the partner country, and it connects to the network overseas, the $5 extra has to be paid.
When they introduced this, it was a revolutionary concept and a way for Vodafone to use the huge number of partner networks it has around the world to offer something a bit different from Optus and Telstra. Now, the other two telcos offer similar schemes. (They are more expensive.)
Vodafone is adding new countries to their partner list all the time. You can see who is currently involved, on their roaming page.
What is Vodafone’s 4G coverage like ?
Vodafone are a bit cagey about the ‘numbers’ concerning the coverage capability of their 4G network. For example, Optus say they cover 98% of Australia. It’s hard to find an equivalent statistic for Vodafone’s network.
In metro / city areas, the research shows Vodafone’s network is just as good as Telstra’s and Optus’. Outside that, Telstra’s 3G coverage footprint is twice that of Vodafone’s. You can find out more on our
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- Vodafone have split out the phone and the plan to give you more flexibility in how you pay for your service.
- They also simplified their entire postpaid plan range last year, in 20198 (still their current range.)
- Then they added unlimited plans and ‘passes’ – a new way to get predictable pricing on some of the data services you use.
- Vodafone’s plans can still be expensive. We show alternatives which use the same network, below.
- We have a separate page for Vodafone’s prepaid plans.
This Month’s Hot Offers
Vodafone have made some ‘sizable’ changes to their entire range of postpaid phones and plans. Historically, telcos have a number of ‘dirty tricks’ which they use to make it hard to compare what they offer, directly. In the past, one of their favorites has been tying together 2 things:
- 1. The monthly plan payment : This is what you pay for your voice calls, SMS and data each month.
- 2. The handset repayment : This is the proportion of your plan which is used to pay off the ‘free’ phone they give you.
To muddy the waters further, some phone companies vary the price of the plan, depending on the device you take. So, for example, if you take an iPhone plan, you might pay $40 for a plan with 10 GB in it. If you take a Samsung Galaxy S8, you’ll pay $45 for the same plan with 10GB in it. It’s very hard to compare phone plans in this circumstance – which could be the intent. This approach is is one of the key ways telcos have deliberately made the market hard to understand for a long time. Vodafone are trying to change that and have made their plans more transparent.
Australia is starting to embrace a world which includes some plans with ‘unlimited data’. Vodafone extended their range shortly after the release of their new unlimited mobile plans at the $60, $80, $100 price points at the start of May 2018. As part of their 2022 strategy, Telstra launched plans which had an option of not charging the $10 per GB for data overage and instead limits speeds to 1.5mbps. Vodafone has opted to sell ‘passes’ as an alternative to Telstra’s charging mechanism. There has been some concern from the regulator about the term ‘Unlimited’ since these plans were launched so you might not see the word itself (‘Unlimited’) in more recent advertising.
So, to clearly summarize Vodafone’s offering :
- Vodafone’s postpaid SIM Only Plans include some plans with Unlimited data :
They provide users with a ‘full speed data’ allowance of 40GB. After the full speed inclusion, any extra data is then slowed speeds. Vodafone call it the difference between data given at ‘max speed’ and data which is ‘throttled’ to 1.5mbps.
- Vodafone is also offering optional ‘passes’ :
Passes are service based fees which covers ‘unlimited’ data for use for a number of purposes. For example, for $10 per month, you might be allowed unlimited access to social Media sites in a month, like Facebook and / or Twitter. With a ‘pass’ you can then access as much data as you want to, in a month, when visiting those sites.
Vodafone passes are optional extras, that cost money charged in addition to your plans’ monthly service fee.
Each pass provides unlimited access, to a group of internet based services.
- An example of a Vodafone ‘pass’ :
One example of a pass is Vodafone’s Social Media pass. It costs $10 per month (in addition to your standard service fee of, say $40 per month.)
- How does a ‘pass’ work?:
In exchange for your $10, you’ll for unlimited access to Facebook and other social networking sites.
- The data speeds ‘passes’ offer are speed limited:
Access to the group of sites granted under teach of the ‘passes’ scheme is not provided at full theoretical network speeds. Data you download from these sites will come down at speeds limited to 1.5mbps.
- But the limits don’t pose any practical restriction:
In practical terms, even high bandwidth applications work just fine at 1.5mbps – so, for example, you could almost certainly watch Netflix (the highest speed data requirement most users have) streamed over that connection.
Vodafone sells 4 different passes, each of which provides unlimited access to these internet based services for a monthly fee.
- $15 – Video partners : Including Netflix, Stan, Amazon Prime Video.
- $10 – Music partners: Including Spotify, Amazon Music, Sound Cloud and Dozer.
- $5 – Chat services : Including WhatsApp, Viber, Facebook Messenger (note, Video chat is not always supported by the Vodafone Pass in these messaging apps.)
- $10 – Social Partners : Facebook, Instagram and the rest of the usual suspects.
They appear to make sense from a user point of view, on the surface. People are far more aware of the Digital products they use (YouTube, Facebook, Messenger) than they are the amount of data they transact while they’re doing it. Service pricing in this $5 – $15 range is a good way to reassure people about the data they’re using, and provide it to them at a reasonable cost. It’s a small amount of money to put your mind at rest if you know you spend hours each day on Facebook, for example.
In practical reality, however, having any Vodafone plan with a throttled speed of 1.5mbps to cover your overage would give you all the benefit of these passes without the cost.
Technically, (unless you encrypt the data you send over their network) the phone companies know which URL your phone is accessing because they’re connecting you to the internet – so they have to.
Phone companies can split the traffic out, per URL and charge as they want to. So, for example, if you go to Netflix.com.au to watch a video, and your pass entitles you to free Netflix data, then Vodafone can ‘zero rates’ that data stream – and you won’t be charged for it.
By the way, there are all sorts of exceptions to these rules – where, when you’re on the Netflix site, for example, that website downloads something automatically from a source outside Netflix.com. Vodafone will charge you for that data – they can’t avoid it – which is why they give you 500MB of data in these passes for all those unintended extras.
Even if you’ve used up all of your allocated data then the data you use accessing these sites will be zero rated so long as you have a pass in place.
- Adding more data when you’ve used yours up:
Vodafone has a facility on their SIM Only plans whereby, when you reach your data limit, you will automatically have more data added at a cost of $10 per GB. Optus and Telstra now have the same thing. Newer phones have faster processors and they pull information down from the network faster. The result is that people are using more data this month than they did last month. By most people’s reckoning, each phone user will get through twice as much data next year as you are now. The safety belt feature that Telstra, Vodafone and Optus have put in place with their auto add data is a lifesaver. It reduces the risk of using data in the first place. It also avoids huge bills for those who accidentally use too much. Vodafone now offer a Vodafone ‘passes’ scheme, explained above, which offers an alternative to this sort of $10/GB charging. Passes off unlimited data downloads to certain websites (at a restricted or ‘throttled’ speed of 1.5mbps.) Vodafone also offer unlimited plans which equally avoid the problems of overage charging.
- Sharing Data over multiple devices:
Vodafone have a data sharing scheme and it’s very similar to Optus’. With it you can add another SIM to what is effectively a family account. Here’s how they work. Imagine a father is paying $50 per month for a SIM Only plan with ‘infinite’ SMS and voice from Vodafone. For $30 per month, he can add another family member, let’s say his wife to that plan. She also gets ‘infinite’ SMS and voice and now splits the data with him. Vodafone’s SIM Only sharing option is an important first step along the multi SIM management path but at this time, the practical benefits are, in our view not worth having. Far better, instead to manage your data needs yourself and buy a bundle you’ll use.
- Overseas roaming at daily prices:
Vodafone have the best proposition in market for overseas roaming on their SIM Only plans. For $5 per day, you can safely (and that is probably the key word) use your phone overseas. Vodafone’s huge global coverage works in their favor here. The range of countries you can go Red Roaming in is already large and is growing every day. Optus and Telstra’s equivalents are more expensive and offers less international coverage. If you travel overseas regularly then Vodafone should be a strong contender for your money.
- Simple ‘Keep Talking’ (or ‘Keep talking Plus’) Insurance:
Vodafone have effectively emulated Optus’ insurance scheme. Iit has some very reasonable terms and it’s far more useful than what was the industry standard until recently and it will let you insure your device up to a value of $2000. Remember, you’ll only be able to use it if you got your phone from Vodafone in the first place.
- Good Self Service App:
Typically, a cost of approximately $5 is assigned by a phone company like Optus or Vodafone to a customer calling in to the customer care organization. If they’re dialing in to do something they could have done online, it makes sense to create an app which allows them to do it. Banks blazed a trail of Self Service which it took the telcos a while to catch up with. These days, the apps from all 3 phone companies is exceptionally good. That includes Vodafone. And you’ll be able to manage your SIM Only plan just fine using their ‘MyAccount’ app.
- Free content:
Vodafone does not offer free included streamed content (streamed audio or video) in their plans. Optus and Telstra do. Vodafone do offer ‘passes’ to content provided by others – which are explained above.
- Network Guarantee:
We have covered Vodafone’s Network Guarantee in some detail before. It’s an important feature if you’re buying a contract. Not so much for a SIM only plan. After all, Vodafone’s agreements are month to month. If it doesn’t work, you just leave.
- Free WiFi:
Every Australian, including Vodafone SIM Only customers can use the free Telstra WiFi Hot Spots that are currently in market as part of Telstra’s trial. It’s just as easily for non customers as it is for Telstra customers to logon. That said, in time, Vodafone customers may well be charged for the facility.
- Loyalty rewards scheme:
Vodafone also now offer a Frequent Flyer program. When you sign up to a Vodafone Unlimited phone plan, on a 12 month contract, (they call them their ‘Plus plans’, they will give you 20,000 Frequent Flyer points. Our view is that these schemes are something to be careful of. They sound great but then, when you’re in them, you make all sorts of decisions that you wouldn’t have made before. For example, signing up to Vodafone when it doesn’t have the best deals just to get air miles.
We ran our own research in late 2017 and again in late 2018, and found a surprising result. Vodafone’s customer satisfaction level are the best in the business.. They are notably better than both Telstra and Optus’.
In our own research from December 2017, you can see Vodafone customers were more satisfied than any other.
For some of us,the most important factor when choosing a phone plan is the quality of the network. You don’t want to find yourself consistently without coverage. You might miss an important business call or find yourself stranded in the middle of no-where without an on screen map. Vodafone have spent $billions trying to improve the performance of their network and how it’s talked about in the media.
Vodafone Australia is not a tiny company. It has a 14.8% market share, behind Optus at 22.3% and Telstra at 39.9% . The problem is, those market shares aren’t changing quickly. It’s a difficult spot for Vodafone. You can get the same network coverage as you do from Vodafone but, with this 4G example, you’ll get 4G coverage across 96.6% of the Australian population instead of Vodafone’s 96% of metro area .
Vodafone’s SIM Only plans will give you access to their 4G network – which is about the same in city areas as Optus’ and Telstra’s
Vodafone covers a very high proportion of the population – almost the same as Telstra and Optus. But there’s a big difference in the number of square Kilometers that each network reaches.
Vodafone’s SIM Only plans will give you access to this many square kilometers.
This Month’s Hot Offers
Bringing it all together
Optus and Telstra have prominent Streamed video content offerings to differentiate themselves from each other. Optus is spending millions on soccer coverage, not always successfully. Vodafone clearly don’t want to make the bet on content that their rivals are doing.
Vodafone has kept clear from these huge content investments so far. And yet, their new price plan range shows that Vodafone do recognize the behavioral changes which are happening around content that many, more often younger phone users are exhibiting. These days it’s not unusual to see someone watching TV on their phone. Netflix and other video streaming services are now mainstream entertainment activities. Their service based pricing ‘passes’ are Vodafone’s first real attempt to sell a product that will help people use their phones more safely, in these new ways.
Their mid 2018 plan refresh may have been rushed but it’s what they still have in market. This is a confused offering from Vodafone. On the one the one hand, they are pitching the solution to data overage as a ‘throttled’ speed limited ‘step down’ from premium service. On the other hand, they are selling a commercial service for a few dollars per month, delivered in the form of these ‘passes’ which themselves are limited to 1.5mbps and which, in this context, we are supposed to accept as an acceptable product to buy.
Since in practical terms, the effect is the same and the cost lower, the best course of action for anyone considering a Vodafone postpaid SIM Only plan is probably to buy a $30 SIM Only plan with the 1.5mbps throttled maximum, Vodafone should probably have thought a bit longer about how to position these things.