Woman and man looking at phones against blue background

Choosing a mobile phone plan: Everything you need to know

Navigating the world of phone plans can be confusing. While you might currently be on a plan, there are a lot of questions and jargon that can make choosing a phone plan sound like a complicated process. However, it doesn’t have to be.

Choosing the best phone plan for your needs is a good way to ensure you’re not paying too much for a plan or features you don’t need, and ensures you get the right inclusions for your needs. If you find comparing phone plans a daunting task, and you don’t quite follow on with the terminology or know what it is exactly that you need, we’re hoping to cover any questions or clear up any confusion you might have about phone plans and the (sometimes) complex telco industry. Let’s get stuck into it.

What types of mobile phone plans are there?

Perhaps the most obvious question is — what types of phone plans are there? There are five different main types of phone plans, and the differences between them are how you pay and what is included. The five different phone plans are:

  • Prepaid
  • Postpaid
  • Pay-as-you-go (PAYG)
  • SIM-only
  • Phone on a plan/bundled device plan

Prepaid plans are plans that you pay in advance and offer a set amount of inclusions. You then have an expiry period in which to use these inclusions. If you run out of inclusions (mostly data) before that expiry period, you will either have to recharge your plan early, add on additional inclusions (if applicable) or wait until the next expiry period before you can use that inclusion again.

Postpaid plans are plans that you are billed for monthly — and typically pay for after you’ve used your plan each month. Your plan inclusions will reset monthly with that new billing period, and if you use up your inclusions during this time, you’ll need to buy an add-on or wait until your next billing period starts up.

Pay-as-you-go (PAYG) plans are the older format of plans, where you only pay for what you use. These days, you typically pay a little upfront and receive some credit to use for calls, texts and data.  Your usage is then subtracted from the credit on your account: calls, texts and data will cost a certain amount per minute, message or megabyte of data. You only pay for what you use, and you may not have an expiry on your plan, however this does depend on the provider.

SIM-only plans are where you receive a SIM card only, which you can use in your choice of phone. Most prepaid, postpaid and PAYG plans are available as SIM-only plans.

Phone on a plan, or a plan bundled with a mobile phone, are plans where you receive a phone plan in addition to a mobile phone that you also need to pay off. These plans are usually postpaid only (although you can get prepaid phones bundled with a device, but the phone is usually paid for upfront). In addition to a monthly bill for your phone plan, you’ll pay off your device in instalments, usually over 12, 24 or 36 months.

How do I choose a mobile phone plan?

Choosing a phone plan doesn’t have to be complicated. Consider what inclusions you want on your plan, such as how much data you need, how you want to pay for that plan and whether you want it as SIM-only, or with a new phone bundled in.

Once you know the main points, such as prepaid/postpaid and SIM-only or phone on a plan, these choices will then limit which providers you can choose from. For example, some providers only offer prepaid plans, while others only offer postpaid. If you’re looking for a new phone on a plan, you’ll have a much smaller pool of telcos to compare plans from.

You might also wish to choose your phone plan based on the network coverage, access to 5G technology or any other extras such as discounts, bonuses, bundling options and entertainment extras. Have a think about what you want in a phone plan and then compare plans from a range of providers. At Canstar Blue, we have plenty of resources, including guides and our phone plan comparison tool, which can help you to compare plans from a range of providers.

Compare mobile phone plans

How many phone plan providers are there?

There are dozens of phone plan providers out there, each offering different plans and choices for customers. The big three telcos — Telstra, Optus and Vodafone — dominate this phone plan space as some of the most well-known providers. These telcos also own the three mobile networks in Australia, which provide network coverage nationwide.

In addition to the big three telcos, there are also a number of smaller telcos known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators, or MVNOs for short. Each MVNO uses either the Telstra network, Optus network or Vodafone network to deliver their phone plan services. While you might not get the exact same coverage on an MVNO compared to the network operator (with the exception of Boost Mobile which has full access to Telstra’s 3G and 4G networks), coverage should still be fairly wide. In the case of 5G network access, Optus is the only network currently allowing MVNOs to access 5G, so you’ll find some MVNOs are able to offer 5G compatible plans.

At Canstar Blue, we compare plans from a range of telcos including the big three and a selection of smaller reputable providers. Here is a list of the telcos we currently compare:

  • AGL
  • ALDI Mobile
  • Amaysim
  • Belong
  • Bendigo Telco
  • Boost Mobile
  • Catch Connect
  • Circles.Life
  • Coles Mobile
  • Dodo
  • Exetel
  • Felix
  • Gomo
  • Go Talk
  • Hello Mobile
  • iiNet
  • iPrimus
  • Kogan
  • Lebara
  • Lyca Mobile
  • Mate
  • Moose Mobile
  • Numobile
  • Optus
  • Pennytel
  • Southern Phone
  • SpinTel
  • Tangerine
  • TeleChoice
  • Telstra
  • Think Mobile
  • TPG
  • Vaya
  • Vodafone
  • Woolworths Mobile
  • Yomojo

What is the best mobile network in Australia?

When comparing the big three telcos and their mobile networks, Telstra is a clear winner when it comes to wide network coverage; however, the competition is closer than you might think.

Telstra covers 99.2% of the population with its 4GX network, Optus covers 97.3% of the population with its 4G Plus network and 98.5% in total, while Vodafone claims to cover 23 million Australians with its mobile network.

To find the best mobile network for you, check the coverage maps on the website of your telco of choice to see if there is mobile coverage in the area where you live, work and any other areas you frequent. To find out more about which providers operate on which network, check out our guides on Australia’s different mobile networks:

Do I need a new mobile phone?

It may be tempting to sign up to a plan with a new phone, especially if telcos offer you discounts or offers if you sign up to a new plan. However, before committing, you should consider if you really need a new plan or not, especially if your current phone is still relatively new.

If you’re happy with your current device, it still works and is still receiving software and security updates, then there is no need to upgrade your phone unless you wish to and can afford it. However, if your device is reasonably old, is operating slowly, you’re having problems with it and it is no longer eligible for software or security updates, you might want to consider upgrading to a new phone.

Should I buy a new phone on a plan?

One of the easiest ways to pick up a new phone is to buy it on a plan from a telco. Rather than paying the full device cost upfront, the phone price is split into monthly payments and is usually available as a plan over 12, 24 or 36 months. Once you’ve paid off your device, the phone is yours to keep. These plans are also usually bundled with a postpaid phone plan from the same telco. Compare plans from a range of providers to find a plan that suits your needs and budget.

Is it cheaper to buy a phone outright?

These days, there is little difference between how much a device costs upfront compared to on a plan. Telcos will typically divide the cost of the phone over 12, 24 or 36 months, meaning you’ll most likely pay the same price for the device upfront from a retailer as you will over the length of your plan. You can always compare the cost listed for the device on the telco’s website to the upfront cost from a retailer.

Buying Phone Outright Vs Phone Plan

What is the average phone bill in Australia?

What you pay for a phone plan usually depends on whether it’s SIM-only or bundled with a new phone, and the sorts of inclusions you have on your plan. Plans can range widely in price, with some plans as cheap as $10 per month or less and going up to $100 or more per month. For a larger data amount, it’s expected that you’ll pay more for your inclusions, while plans with smaller data amounts can cost as little as $10.

Research conducted by Canstar Blue in 2021 shows on average, Aussies pay $29 per month for their SIM-only prepaid phone plan and $35 per month for their SIM-only postpaid plan. Aussies choosing a phone on a plan however pay $82 per month on average, both for their plan and new device.

Average Mobile Phone Bill

Compare SIM-only phone plans

Want an idea of what kind of phone plans are available? The following tables compare a range of SIM-only prepaid and postpaid phone plans — simply switch between the tabs to look at prepaid and postpaid.

Here is a selection of postpaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database with a minimum of 20GB of data, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Try using our mobile phone plan comparison tool to see a wide range of plans from other providers. This table includes products with links to referral partners.

Here is a selection of prepaid plans from Canstar Blue’s database with a minimum of 10GB of data each month, listed in order of standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. If you want to compare a larger range of offers from other providers, use our phone plan comparison tool. This table includes products with links to referral partners.

When should I buy my child their first phone?

It’s inevitable that children will eventually need their own phone at some point. The most common age for kids to get their first phone is at the 12 to 13 year age group. However, parents and guardians should be able to determine when it is most appropriate for their child to receive their first phone.

Younger kids with out of school commitments or in co-parenting situations might benefit from having a mobile phone. It’s also important to identify if your child will be able to handle the responsibility of having a phone and will look after the device.

Best Phones For Kids

Are there any phone plans for seniors?

If you’re a senior who doesn’t tend to use much data, there are a few different plan options for you. There are plenty of cheap phone plans for under $20, and even around the $10 price range (both prepaid and postpaid) that have only a small amount of data included.

There is also a $5 No Data phone plan available from Dodo — this plan includes unlimited standard national calls and SMS, and the option to add 3GB of data for an additional $10 per month if needed. Pay-as-you-go plans are also a good option for seniors who need a plan for their phone, but don’t tend to use their mobile phone often.

Phone Plans For Seniors

Can I get a data-only SIM?

Data-only SIMs are widely available from a range of telcos, however these SIM cards are usually intended for use in tablets, such as iPads, and other portable devices like mobile broadband dongles and modems. You may also wish to use a data-only SIM in an old mobile phone for hotspotting if you need internet access on the go, or if your home internet is out of action temporarily.

While a data-only SIM, which usually comes under the umbrella of mobile broadband SIM plans, will work in your phone, you won’t have access to call or text capabilities. For most of us, it’s best to sign up to a regular phone plan for a long term option with your mobile phone, as some apps and services might require a phone number in which to contact you and set up verification.

Young woman walking in city wearing headphones, looking and phone and holding coffee outdoors

Should I buy an unlocked phone?

Having an unlocked mobile phone means that the device is not locked to a certain mobile network, leaving you free to switch phone plans and providers on any mobile network you want.

Some devices bought directly from a telco may be locked to the network, so it’s best to check this before signing up to a phone plan. Ultimately having an unlocked phone is best as it means that in the future, if you do decide to change telcos or networks, you don’t have to request the device be unlocked (which may include an unlocking fee).

Is My Phone Unlocked?

Can I keep my existing mobile phone number?

It’s a common misconception that you won’t be able to keep your number if you decide to switch telcos. The good news is that you can keep your current mobile phone number when switching to a different provider. The process of transferring your number is called ‘porting’, and the hard work is mostly done by your new provider — all you need to do is let them know you wish to keep your current number.

What is 5G and do I need it?

5G is the latest in mobile network technology and delivers speeds faster than those currently available on 4G mobile networks. Like how 4G technology started replacing 3G technology, 5G is that next step and will eventually roll out to more of the country. It’s expected that in a few years time, 3G networks will be turned off and we’ll mostly have 4G and 5G networks delivering mobile services across Australia.

While not all new mobile devices are being released with 5G compatibility, eventually most new phones will be able to access 5G. If you don’t feel you really need those fast 5G speeds now, it’s likely in a few years time you’ll be using a 5G phone with a more widely available 5G network. If you like streaming videos, playing games on your phone and other data-intensive activities, 5G might reduce lag and deliver you a buffer-free experience. For general phone users, there isn’t a real urgency to jump onto a 5G phone, although it’s worth considering down the track to future-proof your device as the technology becomes more widely used.

5G Networks In Australia

Are there phone plans with unlimited data?

While there are not technically any plans currently on the market offering unlimited full-speed data, Telstra, Optus and Vodafone have waived excess data charges on a range of plans (mostly postpaid). This means that once you use up your included fast-speed data, you’ll be able to continue using data, but at a capped speed. Telstra and Optus cap this ‘unlimited’ data at 1.5Mbps, while Vodafone offers capped speeds of 2Mbps, 10Mbps or 25Mbps, depending on which plan you choose.

Unlimited Data Phone Plans

Are there phone plans without data?

Some PAYG plans technically don’t include data, although you are able to access it if you need — you’ll just be paid for what you use. Dodo, a postpaid provider, does have a No Data plan. For $5 per month, you’ll get unlimited standard national calls and SMS but no data. If you want data, you can add 3GB of data for an additional $10 per month.

While you might think you don’t need data, if you have a smartphone, having access to a little bit of data can be useful. Even if you don’t do much web browsing or social media, data is useful for accessing apps like maps, and in case you need to look something up. Most mobile phones will also refresh apps and information in the background of use, such as your weather app and email. If you’re not planning on using your data much, you might want to look at a plan with a small amount of data.

No Data Phone Plans

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