Telstra vs Vodafone: Which telco has the best phone plans?

Competition among Aussie telcos is fierce. There are a lot of players fighting it out to win your business, and offering deals and perks in the hope of standing out in the crowd. Two of the biggest players in the country are Telstra and Vodafone, with both providers working hard to attract new customers on both postpaid and prepaid plans.

Both of these telcos are part of the ‘big three’, along with Optus, which make up the three networks providing mobile services across Australia. These networks also service the many smaller companies, referred to as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), which piggyback off of Telstra, Vodafone or Optus coverage. While MVNOs are generally known for offering cheaper phone plans, there can be some advantages to choosing one of the big three.

Telstra and Vodafone have lots of similarities, such as offering prepaid, postpaid and phone on a plan options, but there are also plenty of differences. While Telstra has the biggest network as well as lots of entertainment extras packed in, Vodafone has some pretty compelling data offerings, and one of the most competitive global roaming options around.

So which telco has the best phone plan for you? Let’s take a look at Telstra and Vodafone to see how they compare when it comes to phone plans and value for money.

Telstra vs Vodafone: A quick glance

Telstra is known for having the largest network in Australia, with coverage reaching over 99% of the population, so it’s generally considered a good option for people living in remote and regional areas. As for 5G, Telstra is continually rolling out its 5G network, with more sites going live across Australia and several 5G-compatible devices now available to buy on a plan.

Vodafone, as Australia’s third-largest telco, delivers total coverage to about 96% of the population, which is still around 22 million people. However, Vodafone has been a bit slow when it comes to 5G. The telco has just launched its 5G network in early 2020, with coverage still limited compared to Telstra and even Optus. Now with its 5G network live, Vodafone has started rolling out 5G-compatible devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy S20 series, so customers can experience the Vodafone 5G network for themselves.

Both telcos offer a range of SIM-only phone plans across prepaid and postpaid, along with postpaid plans available with a new handset. As for phones, you’ll find the latest devices from all the big names including Apple iPhone, Samsung, Huawei, Google and OPPO. You’ll also be able to pick up unlimited data in some shape or form from both telcos, along with bonuses and extras.

Before you sign up to either telco, there are a couple things you should check on the telcos’ websites. First, check the coverage to ensure you will have access to that network where you live and work. Also, if you’re looking for a new phone and have a particular device in mind, check with the telco to see if they have your preferred device model and storage size in stock.
People against wall looking at smartphones with Telstra and Vodafone logos

The best phone plans from Telstra and Vodafone

Telstra and Vodafone have a lot in common, but there are some big differences. Price points and what you’ll get for your money is perhaps some of the biggest differences between the two. While Telstra is generally a pricier option, the value that Telstra packs in could be worth the extra cost — it depends on what you’re after from your phone plan.

Vodafone on the other hand has its plans around that middle-range price point. While you won’t find a prepaid or postpaid plan below $30 per month (unless there’s a special offer running), you also won’t pay near $100 per month for a plan.

Most plans from both telcos are fairly generous when it comes to data – so if you tend to stream a lot of video and music, you’ll most likely find a plan with enough data for your needs. Plus, both telcos offer unlimited capped-speed data on postpaid plans. You’ll also find that Telstra and Vodafone include a range of features, whether its entertainment extras or bonus data, that could be an enticing inclusion.

To give you a better idea of plan prices and data inclusions, the table below shows the cheapest and most expensive postpaid SIM-only plans on offer from Telstra and Vodafone from Canstar Blue’s database listed in order of advertised cost, lowest cost first, then by data allowance highest to lowest. Use our comparison tool to see a wider range of plans from other providers. These tables include sponsored products with links to referral partners.

Telstra vs Vodafone: Phone on a plan

Telstra and Vodafone are two of only a handful of Aussie telcos that offer a new smartphone bundled with a phone plan (Optus, Woolworths Mobile, TeleChoice and Southern Phone are the others). You can expect the latest premium devices from the biggest manufacturers, along with some older and cheaper models.

If you’re an iPhone fan, Telstra and Vodafone (along with Optus) are the only Aussie telcos currently able to offer iPhones bundled with phone plans. As for Android devices, you’ll have plenty of choice from Samsung, Huawei and OPPO to name a few.

Currently Telstra has a range of 5G-compatible devices available and the larger network to support them: the Samsung Galaxy S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra 5G phones, the Galaxy A90 5G and Note 10+ 5G, OPPO Reno 5G and the LG V50 ThinQ. However before you get too excited, you should check Telstra’s 5G network coverage to see if you’ll have access, as most live 5G sites are located in and around capital cities. Vodafone currently has the Samsung Galaxy S20, S20+ and S20 Ultra 5G devices, along with the Galaxy A71 5G phone, however 5G coverage with Vodafone is still quite limited.

One important thing to note about Telstra and Vodafone is that these telcos separate your phone payments from your plan payments. While Vodafone was the first to roll out this style of plan offering, Telstra now offers the same style of phone plan.

With both telcos, you’ll first select your smartphone and how long you want your device payment period to be — 24 or 36 months for Telstra, 12, 24 or 36 months for Vodafone. Then you select a postpaid plan to bundle with your phone. While technically the phone plans are month-to-month (allowing you to swap from plan to plan as your needs change), if you were to cancel altogether, you would need to pay off the remainder of your handset.

The following table shows a selection of 24-month Telstra and Vodafone 128GB Samsung Galaxy S20+ 5G plans from Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of advertised standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our comparison tool to see a wider range of plans from other providers. These are products with links to referral partners.

The following table shows a selection of 24-month Telstra and Vodafone 64GB iPhone 11 Pro plans from Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of advertised standard cost, lowest to highest, then by data allowance, largest to smallest. Use our comparison tool to see a wider range of plans from other providers. These are products with links to referral partners.

Telstra vs Vodafone: Postpaid phone plans

When it comes to SIM-only postpaid plans, one thing that Telstra and Vodafone have in common is that the postpaid plans are virtually the same as the plans that can be bundled with a device.

Telstra offers the one suite of four postpaid month-to-month plans, and gives you the choice of keeping it SIM-only or adding a new handset on. As for Vodafone, the plans are named slightly differently, but it’s the same price and data inclusions whether you bundle with a phone or choose the SIM-only plan.

Another similarity between these two is the offering of unlimited data on postpaid plans — but there is a catch. Both Telstra and Vodafone offer plans where, once you’ve used up your included data allowance (or fast-speed data), you’ll be able to continue using data but at the capped speed of 1.5Mbps. It’s worth noting that the capped speed is still considered fast enough to stream video in standard-definition (SD) quality, along with other web browsing, but you may experience slow speeds and load times.

Vodafone promotes this as ‘endless data’ and it’s available on all of it’s SIM-Only Plus Plans and Red Plus Plans (bundled with a phone). Prices start at $40 with 10GB of fast-speed data, and go up to $80 with 150GB of fast-speed data. Telstra on the other hand, promotes this as eliminated ‘excess data charges’ and it’s available on all four postpaid plans, even when bundled with a new phone.

Telstra offers its postpaid plans as no lock-in month-to-month plans, so you’re able to sign up for one month to test it out without being charged a break contract ‘exit fee’ if you decide to cancel your SIM-only postpaid plan. Vodafone had previously offered 12-month plans in addition to month-to-month, however it is now only offering postpaid plans as month-to-month plans.

As for price, Vodafone’s plans are more mid-level plans, while Telstra does charge a premium price. The cheapest Vodafone plan is $40 with 10GB data while the cheapest Telstra plan is $50 with 30GB. On the top-level, $80 with Vodafone gets you 150GB of data, while you’ll be paying $100 with Telstra for 150GB of data.

The following table shows all published Telstra and Vodafone postpaid plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, with the lowest priced plan first. Use our comparison tool to see a wider range of plans from other providers, including the month-to-month plans from Vodafone. These are products with links to referral partners.

Telstra vs Vodafone: Prepaid phone plans

Both Telstra and Vodafone offer a range of prepaid phone plans. While there are plenty of MVNOs out there offering cheaper and more value-packed prepaid plans than what you’ll generally get from the big three telcos, it’s still worth comparing what is on offer, as Telstra or Vodafone could have the right plan for you.

Telstra offers two forms of prepaid plans: Pre-Paid Complete plans and Long Life Plus plans. The Pre-Paid Complete plans are where your credit includes unlimited standard national calls and SMS along with data inclusions. The expiry periods vary from plan-to-plan, starting at a 7-day expiry for the $10 plan and going up to a 12-month expiry for the $300 plan. Pre-Paid Max plans also include up to 200GB of data banking.

Telstra’s Long Life Plus plans are more like the traditional prepaid ‘pay-as-you-go’ (PAYG) plans where you load up with credit to use for calls, SMS or data. You’ll have a set number of days to use up your credit (with 45, 186 and 365 day expiry periods available) and then recharge as you need. Telstra’s prepaid plans require you to purchase a SIM or starter pack, and then recharge as needed, with more recharge options available than the starter packs.

Vodafone also offers two options for its prepaid plans — the Combo Plus plans where you get included value for your credit, and the Pay and Go plans which are like the PAYG traditional prepaid plans. The Combo Plus plans are available at three price points — $30 for 10GB data on a 28-day expiry period, $40 for 20GB data on a 35-day expiry period and $50 for 30GB over a 35-day expiry. All of these plans include unlimited standard national calls and SMS, while the $40 and $50 plans include some international call value. The Pay and Go plans are available at the same $30, $40 and $50 price points, however your call, SMS and data use will be taken from your credit.

The following table shows a selection of published Telstra (Prepaid Max) and Vodafone (Combo Plus) prepaid plans on Canstar Blue’s database, listed in order of cost, with the lowest priced plan first. Use our comparison tool to see a wider range of plans from other providers. These are products with links to referral partners.

Which telco has the best bonuses and extras?

One advantage to choosing a plan from one of the big telcos is that generally these providers offer more extras and bonus offers. Both Telstra and Vodafone offer extras in some shape or form, but determining which telco has the best bonuses and extras is really dependant on what you need and what you will actually use.

Telstra does tend to offer the most enticing and generous extras of all the Aussie telcos, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that these plans will be the right option for you. With a Telstra plan you’ll have access to data-free Apple music streaming, subscriptions and data-free access to sports including the NRL and AFL, along with free access to the Telstra Air WiFi network. Telstra is also known to offer bonuses, such as free accessories, entertainment subscriptions, discounts and bonus data, on select plans from time to time. These extras are generally included on most plans, but you should double check on the Telstra website before signing up.

Another bonus from Telstra is its Telstra Plus rewards program. Much like the rewards programs you would be familiar with from the supermarkets and airlines, simply by paying your Telstra bill or recharging your prepaid plan, you’ll earn points for every dollar spent. Those points can then go towards items in the Rewards Store, such as a Google Home Mini or a new phone. You’ll also have access to a range of special offers, such as discounted sports and movie tickets and pre-sale concert ticket access.

As for Vodafone, it doesn’t really have many extras beyond the unlimited capped-speed data, but that, in combination with the decent inclusions for the price points could be enough value for your needs. Vodafone does however offer discounts, bonus data, and other offers such as subscriptions to streaming services every now and then, so keep an eye out to see what’s available.

One area where Vodafone does have the edge on Telstra, and indeed on most telcos, is its $5 Roaming. Available to postpaid customers, $5 Roaming allows you to use your phone plan as you normally would in Australia but for the daily charge of $5, and you’ll only be charged when you make or receive a call, send a text or use your data. There are over 80 countries where you can use $5 Roaming — other destinations will be PAYG roaming with international roaming rates. Prepaid users will also be required to use PAYG roaming or choose a Prepaid Roaming Add on.

Telstra vs Vodafone — the final word

Now that we’ve taken a look at the similarities and differences between Telstra and Vodafone, which telco has the right plan for you? It usually comes down to value for money, but how you see value might be different to how another person sees value. While Vodafone’s plans are a bit cheaper and include generous chunks of data, Telstra does pack a lot of extra value into most of its plans, not to mention the wider network coverage. However, before you jump into a plan from either provider, you should take a broader look at these and other telcos to ensure you’re signing up for a plan that is best suited to your needs.

  • Price: Comparing plans from Vodafone and Telstra, it’s clear that Vodafone does have a range of cheaper plans. With prices for postpaid plans starting at $40 and maxing out at $80, these are some reasonable mid-range prices with fairly generous inclusions. Telstra’s two lower-tiered postpaid plans, at $50 and $60, are around the same price point as Vodafone’s two middle plans — Telstra maxes out at $100 per month on postpaid. Prepaid is a little harder to judge as Telstra does have a $10 plan, but only over a 7-day expiry period. The $300 plan works out to be around $25 per month over the 12-month expiry period, so Telstra does have some cheaper options if you want to go prepaid. Vodafone’s prepaid plans are around similar price points to the postpaid options, so it’s not the cheapest out there, but also not an unreasonable price for decent inclusions.
  • Data: If you’re looking for a plan with the most data on offer, it’s fairly even between the two. Vodafone’s cheapest postpaid plan only includes 10GB of data, however for $50 with Vodafone you’ll get 60GB compared to Telstra’s $50 plan with 30GB. Since both telcos also offer unlimited data at capped speeds, it’s still an even result. How much you pay for a similar amount of data does give Vodafone a slight edge.
  • Phones: The competition between these two is close when it comes to the choice of available handsets. Both telcos offer mostly the same devices, so it could come down to which of the two has the exact device you want in the right storage size. One point of difference is that Telstra has a growing selection of 5G compatible phones, while Vodafone has only just started stocking 5G-capable phones. Telstra also has the larger live 5G network to support them, with Vodafone trailing behind, so if 5G is important for you, then Telstra is pretty much your best choice.
  • Extras: Telstra does edge ahead with its included extras, which could make the more expensive plans worth the cost to you. Data-free music and sports streaming is a big plus if these are services you know you will use and use often. The Telstra Plus rewards program could also be useful, especially since paying your bills will earn you points and grant you access to some exclusive offers. If you do lots of travelling overseas, Vodafone’s $5 Roaming is by far one of the best global roaming options around and access to this could be enough to get you to sign up. Have a think about which extras you’ll actually need or want to use, and that could help you pick between these providers.

So after all that, you’ll hopefully have a clearer idea as to whether a Telstra or Vodafone plan is the right option for you. Both telcos have their pros and cons, as well as similarities and differences. However there are many other telcos around, so as always, do your own research and comparisons to help you decide which telco and phone plan is right for you.

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