Mobile Phone Plans & Providers Compared


Canstar Blue compares mobile phone plans from Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Virgin Mobile. Telcos are reviewed on their customer service, value for money, network coverage, billing information, sign up and activation process, plan flexibility and overall satisfaction. Find out which provider is deemed to offer the best bang for your new handset plan buck.

See our Ratings Methodology.

2017 award for mobile phone on a plan

Most Satisfied Customers | Virgin Mobile

For the second year in a row, Virgin Mobile has been rated highest of the big four providers when it comes to new mobile phone plans. In 2017, Virgin Mobile earned five star reviews for customer service, value for money, sign up and activation, billing information, plan flexibility and overall satisfaction.

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Virgin Mobile leads the big boys for handset phone plans

When it’s time to choose a new mobile phone plan, you have a few different options, including SIM-only prepaid and postpaid deals on either a monthly or contract basis. However, by far the most popular way to get connected is to get a plan that includes a new handset, be it the latest iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, or other leading brand. The advantages are obvious, as you can slowly pay off the cost of the handset until you own it outright, while enjoying unlimited talk and texts, a bag full of data, and some great bonus features such as unmetered video or music streaming, free subscriptions to various services, or international call inclusions. However, these plans will usually only be available over 24 months, so you’ll want to choose wisely.

That’s why Canstar Blue produces an annual review of mobile phone providers, to find out what Australian users think of the services they provide. We review every aspect of their plans, from the initial sign up & activation process, to the customer service experienced, network coverage, billing information, plan flexibility, value for money and – ultimately – overall satisfaction.

This review focuses on the big four mobile phone plan providers – Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Virgin Mobile. However, it’s worth keeping in mind that other telcos also provide the chance to bundle a new handset with a plan, most notably Woolworths Mobile. But which carrier is rated highest by the people who know best? For the second year in a row, we found Virgin Mobile to have the most satisfied customers overall.

  • Virgin Mobile earned five stars across almost all research categories, with the exception of network performance where it still achieved a creditable four stars
  • Vodafone followed next with a four star rating for overall satisfaction and in most other categories, apart from network performance where it scored three stars
  • Optus and Telstra both rated three stars overall, with Optus earning four stars for its sign up and activation process and plan flexibility, while Telstra was the only carrier to achieve top marks for network coverage

There are clearly lots of things to consider when choosing a new phone plan with a handset, but it could ultimately come down to which provider offers the best plan inclusions for your specific needs, including the data allowance and other bonus features. You might also be swayed by the phone network itself if you get reliable coverage in your area. Telstra, Optus and Vodafone use their own mobile networks to deliver their phone services, while Virgin Mobile uses the Optus network. If you have a particular preference for one network or another, also consider the many other smaller telcos that piggyback off them. You can learn about them via the links below:

But this review focuses on the big boys, so let’s see what they have to offer Aussie customers.

Phone Plans Compared

Let’s compare what’s on offer from Telstra, Optus, Vodafone and Virgin Mobile. Keep in mind that the cost of your new phone plan will depend on three factors:

  • The handset you select (the latest models will naturally cost more)
  • The plan you pick (i.e. the calls, text and data inclusions, plus other features)
  • Your service provider (i.e. whether you go with Virgin Mobile, Optus, Telstra, Vodafone or someone else)

To give you an idea of how costs can vary, let’s look at a comparison of plans for the iPhone 8 (64GB) and Samsung Galaxy S8 (64GB). Let’s say we want unlimited calls and texts, plus at least 2GB of data to use a month. If we can get any more data, or extra features, that’s a bonus.

To get a 64GB iPhone 8 plan, you’ll usually have to spend at least $67 a month for both the plan and handset. With the four main providers, Virgin Mobile usually works out to be the cheapest, but if you’re willing to spend a little more you stand to receive some more value. For example, Optus and Vodafone both offer similar deals, while Telstra’s plans do cost more but you usually get a range of extra perks and bonuses to make up for the extra outlay. We’ll get to those extra perks shortly!

Samsung Galaxy S8 plans are often found at similar prices to iPhone 7 plans, but what you get in each plan might be a bit more exciting. Generally, 1GB of data comes as standard, while 2GB of data plus unlimited calls and texts for under $80 a month is not unheard of. Once again, Virgin Mobile is one of the cheapest providers but Optus is hot on its heels. Vodafone and Telstra may be some of the pricier options, but what you stand to receive in return could be appealing.

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Extra perks & features to consider

At a time when the SIM-only (bring your own phone) market is hugely competitive, with more than 30 different carriers all fighting for your business, the big providers need to offer some amazing deals to encourage consumers to sign up for two years. As you’ll likely be paying over $60 a month with these handset phone plans, you should also consider any bonus features on offer to sweeten the deal. These days, it’s all about who can deliver the best add-on features to accompany your shiny new handset. Don’t just look for the cheapest prices – look for the offer that gives you the best value for your money, depending on your interests.

Unlimited talk & texts is basically the minimum requirement now for any phone plan over $25 per month – the carriers need to do a bit more to impress. If you’re comparing contracted plans from Virgin Mobile, Optus, Telstra and Vodafone, these are some of the features you’re likely to find.

Music streaming

This is becoming another fairly standard feature of phone plans, with the big providers allowing you to stream as much music as you please from selected services, without eating into your monthly data allowance.

  • Virgin Mobile customers on plans costing over $40 per month can stream music from Spotify, Google Play Music and iHeartRadio with no data charges
  • Optus users on selected plans can also stream as much music as they like from Spotify, Google Play Music and iHeartRadio without using their mobile data
  • Telstra offers a six month subscription to Apple Music on all new handset plans. If your plan costs $95 or more, you’ll get a year-long membership. Streaming is data-free
  • Vodafone previously offered included subscriptions to Spotify with many of its Red plans, while customers who bought one of these eligible plans before December 2016 are still able to enjoy the benefits

Subscription video

The way Australians watch their favourite TV shows and movies has changed significantly since the arrival of several subscription video on demand services, most notably Netflix and Stan. A few years ago, being able to record shows on Foxtel and watch them at your convenience was incredible, but now all major TV networks have their own online catch-up services and consumers are used to being able to watch TV shows and movies on their mobiles, on the go. Mobile providers have responded to this by introducing TV subscription services to many phone plans, with some even bringing data-free streaming.

  • Telstra provides live, data-free streaming of NRL, AFL and Netball leagues on plans over $40 a month. Season passes can cost as much as $90 when sold separately
  • Optus offers data-free Netflix and Stan streaming through ‘Yes TV’ by Fetch if you have the subscription service. A number of plans also have included access to Optus Sport, as well as National Geographic. All of this is usually data-free and included in plans costing over $40 a month
  • Vodafone often teams up with Stan to offer free subscriptions. This promotion tends to come and go periodically

International calls

Unlimited local talk and texts has become the norm, but many service providers also now offer unlimited international calls to selected countries. Some SIM-only mobile providers have great international call packages, but few can match the features offered by the big carriers:

  • Virgin Mobile offers unlimited standard international calls to the UK, USA, China, India, Canada and Singapore with handset plans costing more than $80 a month. Virgin also includes a set amount of call time to other countries, depending on the plan
  • Optus customers on its most expensive plans get unlimited international calls to a wide range of selected countries. Other Optus plans come with a set amount of international call time
  • Telstra offers unlimited international talk and texts to 10 selected countries on certain plans, while the net is cast even wider if you sign up to its most expensive handset plan
  • Vodafone customers commonly get up to 1000 international call minutes to 12 selected countries, plus varying amounts of call time to several others, depending on the cost of the plan. Users can generally choose between more data or international inclusions with their plans

It’s also worth checking out what these providers can offer when it comes to taking your phone plan overseas, especially if you travel regularly. Optus, Telstra, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone all provide roaming packs for overseas use, with Vodafone arguably the standout for its ‘$5 a day’ roaming feature.

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Other features to consider

Phone plans with 20GB of data or more are now common, so it makes sense that many mobile users will go through months when they don’t use all of their allowance. As such, data rollover is now a very popular feature of many plans, but some carriers are more generous with it than others. The same can be said when it comes to international roaming. Many providers are also teaming up with airlines to provide frequent flyer points. Additionally, if you’re a student, you also stand to save with discounts and in some cases heaps of bonus data. In any case, be sure to check out the small print of your contract if these factors are likely to be relevant to you.

Let’s now take a closer look at Virgin Mobile, Optus, Telstra and Vodafone, to help you decide which plan and provider may be the best match for you.

Virgin Mobile Phone Plans

Virgin Mobile is one of the biggest ‘mobile virtual network operators’ to use the Optus network and is one of the premier MVNOs to offer phone plans with the latest handsets, such as the iPhone 8.

  • Handset phone plans start at $40 a month for 24 months, with which you stand to receive unlimited calls & texts plus 2GB data.
  • Prices for the iPhone 8 64GB start at about $70 a month, with most being under $100

Other than data-free music streaming, Virgin Mobile is a bit light on extra ‘stuff’, but is generally one of the cheapest big phone plan providers. Its data rollover policy – whereby any unused data is passed over to the following month – is also handy for those with sporadic data needs. Here is a taste of what Virgin Mobile has to offer:

Vodafone Mobile Phone Plans

Vodafone is unique among the big providers in that it has separated the plan from your phone repayments. This means that the only contract you’re tied into is repaying the phone, over 12, 24 or 36 months. What this then means is that the plan itself is not on a contract, so you can swap them around as you like.

  • Vodafone ‘Red’ plans start at around $40 a month, for which you get unlimited calls & texts plus 2GB data and $50 international credit
  • Prices for the new iPhone 8 64GB start at about $70 a month in total over a 24 month contract, but keep in mind you can elect to pay more per month over a 12 month contract, or less over a 36 month contract – the end result is the same

As Vodafone is a global phone company, it’s perhaps a no brainer that its main bonuses centre on international calling inclusions, as well as roaming features. Also expect huge data bonuses from time to time, as well as generous student discounts. Vodafone has also teamed up with Qantas to deliver bonus frequent flyer points to members. With Vodafone’s plans you can choose a couple of different paths to take; either opt for more data, or opt for more Qantas points and international credit. In terms of basic plans, this is what you can expect to find from Vodafone with an iPhone 8 bundled in:

Optus Mobile Phone Plans

Like Virgin Mobile and Vodafone, handset phone plans from Optus also start at around the $45 mark, with variable rates for phone repayments. If you want a new iPhone 8 plan bundle, you can expect the following:

  • Plans will start at about $45 a month plus variable rates for the iPhone itself. Repayments for the phones generally get cheaper if you choose a more expensive plan.

If you want to bundle in an iPhone 8, expect the total plan to cost about $70 a month at minimum for a ‘Flex’ leasing plan. More expensive plans carry a lot more entertainment perks and international calling credit, though most plans come with Optus Sport and National Geographic subscriptions. Data-free music streaming with Google Play, iHeartRadio and Spotify is also pretty much ubiquitous across plans. For the phone to cost nothing extra, you usually have to be willing to pay $130 or more a month. This is how Optus lines up:

Telstra Mobile Phone Plans

Telstra is generally the priciest of the providers in this review, but the big blue telco more than makes up for this in its range of perks.

  • The cheapest handset plans are around $59 a month, in which you get unlimited calls and texts plus 2GB data. Bundling in the iPhone 8 64GB will cost about $89 a month in total
  • More expensive plans generally attract cheaper phone repayments, with the phone coming included for $0 on dearer plans

Despite the $90-odd minimum cost for an iPhone 8 package, Telstra’s phone plans can deliver value in the shape of bonus features, includes things like Telstra Air data, meaning you can go further on your standard data allowance. Also included is data-free music streaming plus free Apple Music memberships for the first six months. You also stand to get game passes to NRL, AFL and Netball, which is available data-free. For fans of Aussie sports, Telstra provides a compelling proposition. Telstra has also teamed up with Foxtel to deliver Foxtel Now packages on some plans, meaning your phone and entertainment needs are likely sorted. Here is a flavour of Telstra’s plan:

What about ‘Lease’ plans with Telstra & Optus?

You may have both Optus and Telstra are continually pushing their ‘lease’ plans agenda. Leasing a phone basically means you ‘rent’ your mobile and have to hand it back at the end of your term, or upgrade to a new phone after a year for a nominal fee.

  • While you don’t get to keep your phone, you do stand to receive either discounted phone plans or bonus data for your trouble.
  • However, you do have to keep the phone in good condition, as breaking it or cracking a screen likely attracts a fine up to $400 or so!

Despite the extra data and/or discounts, it may also be a hard pill to swallow having to hand your phone back. You’ve worked hard to ‘pay off’ that shiny new iPhone, and it’s reasonable to expect to keep it at the end. As such, we recommend always checking whether you’re about to sign a ‘lease’ plan or a ‘keep’ plan.

  • If the deals seem unbelievable then it may be worth double checking to see if it’s a lease plan!
  • Lease plans suit some, but keeping your phone at the end of your contract is always going to be an enticing prospect.

Below you can see some of Telstra’s and Optus’ lease plans, labelled ‘Go Mobile Swap’ and ‘Flex’ plans respectively. Note the price differences and the data differences with the iPhone 8 plans seen above.

Other phone providers

While Virgin Mobile, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone are clearly the big four when it comes to new handset phone plans, it’s always worth considering some smaller players, too. While most small carriers only operate in the SIM-only space, some do provide the opportunity for customers to bundle a handset as part of the deal. However, you will find that not all new handsets are available. The following providers all specialise in Samsung Galaxy phone plans:

How to get the best deal on a new phone plan

The big phone providers need to do more than just offer unlimited calls and texts and modest amounts of data to impress customers these days. As such, they are going to great lengths to offer things like data-free music streaming, sports streaming, frequent flyer points, extra data, international calling and so on to help sweeten the deal. Here is a summary of what’s on offer from the big boys:

  • If you want a slightly cheaper plan: Virgin Mobile is hard to ignore when it comes to the basic price of standard features. You also get the bonus of data-free music streaming
  • If you travel regularly: Vodafone is tough to beat here because of its Qantas Frequent Flyer partnership, in addition to solid international roaming features for when you head overseas
  • If you crave data-free videos: Optus offers a compelling proposition with data-free ‘Yes TV’ video streaming, including Netflix. You can also stream EPL soccer on your mobile
  • If you love Aussie sport or Foxtel: Telstra is the premier provider here, with NRL, AFL and Netball games available data-free, on the go. Foxtel packages are also often included in dearer plans. There is also the bonus of Apple Music streaming and Telstra Air coverage, but be prepared to pay in excess of $100 for this, especially with iPhone 8 plans.

With such a large range of phone plans out there, there is bound to be something for everyone. Bundling in a new handset with your phone plan is still a popular choice, even with the rise of cheap, SIM-only plans. Virgin Mobile was rated five stars for overall customer satisfaction in our 2017 review, but all four carriers have some appealing offers. It’s not an easy decision, but we hope this report has proved helpful.

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Frequently asked questions

Canstar Blue commissioned Colmar Brunton to survey 3,000 Australian adults across a range of categories to measure and track customer satisfaction. The outcomes reported are the results from customers within the survey group who have an active mobile phone plan account which includes paying for a mobile handset – in this case, 1,200 people.

Brands must have received at least 30 responses to be included. Results are comparative and it should be noted that brands receiving three stars have still achieved a satisfaction measure of at least six out of 10. Not all brands available in the market have been compared in this survey. The ratings table is first sorted by star ratings and then alphabetically. A rated brand may receive a ‘N/A’ (Not Applicable) rating if it does not receive the minimum number of responses for that criteria.

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