Vodafone, Telstra, Optus: Who has the best ‘unlimited data’ phone plan?

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Unlimited data phone plans are here. Yes, that’s right! Australia’s three network carriers – Vodafone, Telstra and Optus – now have their own phone plans with ‘unlimited’ data – though ‘unlimited’ is a grey area, so what does it actually mean? This type of deal has been common in the UK and US for a couple years now – and we’ve caught up. If you’ve seen them advertised, they all look pretty similar, so what are the differences, and what’s the catch? See how they stack up below.

Unlimited Data Phone Plans from Vodafone, Telstra & Optus

All three offer or have previously offered some form of ‘unlimited’ data phone plan, but what are the catches? The biggest factor into all three carriers’ plans is the fact that speeds are throttled to 1.5Mbps after a certain amount – or in the case of Optus, all the way through.

Vodafone Telstra Optus
Price per month? $60-$80 $69-$199 $60
Full speed data? 40GB-80GB Yes, for $199 0GB
Available to everyone?
Month to month contract?
Available with a phone?
Data-free music streaming?
Data-free TV streaming?
International credit?

Source: Respective retailer websites, September 2018.

Vodafone Unlimited Data Phone Plans

Vodafone has come to the game with a small, but impressive selection of unlimited data phone plans. There are two plans to choose from – $60 or $80. With these plans you get either 40GB or 80GB of full-speed data. With full speed data you get access to the limits of the full Vodafone 4G network. After that, speeds are throttled to 1.5Mbps – Vodafone says this is enough for streaming and most other applications.

  • Users can also get up to 20,000 Qantas Frequent Flyer points each month.

Vodafone’s deal is the only one that comes with no lock-in contract. It is also the most flexible, allowing you to bundle the plan with a handset repayment, such as the iPhone X. Below are a selection of plans, noting that these are sponsored products and that Vodafone often offers extra ‘full speed’ data bonuses.

Brand Features Max Data**/billing period Advertised Cost^^/billing period
Vodafone Logo

$60 Unlimited SIM Only

  • Unlimited Data*(Capped at 1.5Mbps after 40GB)
  • Unlimited National Calls & SMS
  • 10,000 Qantas Points

min. cost $720.00 over 12 month billing period

Unlimited*Max Data**/billing period $60Advertised Data^^/billing period Go To Site
Vodafone Logo

$80 Unlimited SIM Only

  • Unlimited Data*(Capped at 1.5Mbps after 80GB)
  • Unlimited National Calls & SMS
  • 20,000 Qantas Points

min. cost $960.00 over 12 month billing period

Unlimited*Max Data**/billing period $80Advertised Data^^/billing period Go To Site
View all mobile plans listed on Canstar Blue

Telstra Unlimited Data Phone Plans

Telstra also came to the game on the same day as Vodafone with its own unlimited data offering. However, it eventually withdrew the offer, only to re-introduce it in July. With Telstra there’s a few plans available; Telstra has introduced a ‘Peace of Mind’ data deal, whereby for $10 extra a month on most postpaid plans ‘unlimited’ data is available. Plans where it’s included include:

  • SIM only deals cost $69 and $89 a month, for which you get 30GB or 60GB full-speed data respectively; after that it’s slowed to 1.5Mbps.
  • There is one deal where it could be considered truly ‘unlimited’ and it costs nearly $200 a month; for $199 customers get unlimited full-speed data on a phone plan, meaning they will need to bundle in a smartphone as part of the equation.
  • Other extras include data-free subscriptions to AFL, NRL, Netball & A-League through their respective game-pass apps, accessed with full-speed data at all times.

With Telstra you get unbridled access to the 4GX network and its maximum speeds for 30GB-60GB’s worth. The plan is SIM-only, meaning you will need to bring your own device. You’ll also be locked in for 12 months, which seems like a fair compromise for a compelling plan.

In terms of flexibility, Telstra’s is arguably less flexible than Vodafone’s offering as it’s on a 12-month contract and is SIM-only. However, the extra goodies such as sports streaming may more than make up for it. Below is a list of sponsored products, noting that the phone plans on offer are speed-capped after a certain amount of data.

Brand Features Max Data**/billing period Advertised Cost^^/billing period
Telstra Logo

$99 Large

  • Unlimited National Calls & SMS
  • 24 month Foxtel Now subscription to 1 Foxtel Now Starter Pack

min. cost $2376 over 24 month plan period

30GBMax Data**/billing period $99Advertised Data^^/billing period Go To Site
Telstra Logo

$129 Extra Large

  • Unlimited National Calls & SMS
  • 24 month Foxtel Now subscription to 1 Foxtel Now Starter Pack
  • 60GB bonus data
  • $10 monthly credit

min. cost $3096 over 24 month plan period

60GBMax Data**/billing period $129Advertised Data^^/billing period Go To Site
Telstra Logo

$199 Ultimate

  • Unlimited National Calls & SMS
  • *Unlimited data offered with ‘the best speeds available’
  • 24 month Foxtel Now subscription to 1 Foxtel Now Starter Pack

min. cost $4776 over 24 month plan period

Unlimited*Max Data**/billing period $199Advertised Data^^/billing period Go To Site
View all mobile plans listed on Canstar Blue

Optus Unlimited Data Phone Plans

Optus was the first to drop an unlimited phone plan, called ‘Unleashed’. However, after just a day it was withdrawn from availability, but a couple weeks later it was offered again.

  • Optus’ plan is invitation-only to current select Optus customers. To sign up you would have received an email.
  • The plan technically does not exist anymore as it was offered from 5 March to 30 April 2018.

However, customers on the plan can continue to use it. It came on a 12-month SIM-only basis and came with unlimited data that was speed-rated to 1.5Mbps all the way through. Users were able to add up to five SIM cards, with the second SIM costing $50 a month, and subsequent SIMs costing $40 per month. This enabled families to bundle their plans all on the one easy bill.

As a dark horse, Optus’ phone plan was the first to kick off the unlimited mobile data hype, but today it’s probably barely worth a mention as only a select few Optus customers could sign up to it, and the plan is no longer active.

Is unlimited data really unlimited?

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has cracked down over what constitutes ‘unlimited’ data, threatening fines for misleading advertisements. The end result is that all three telcos have removed ‘unlimited’ from its advertising. The telcos have instead opted for terms like ‘full speed data’, ‘data at no extra cost’ and so on. Vodafone has then described its plans as ‘endless’ data – avoiding the prickly ‘unlimited’ term.

ACCC Chair Rod Sims said that this crackdown has put the three telcos on notice.

“With much higher penalties now available for breaches of consumer law, I hope they will take their obligations more seriously. From now on consumer law penalties will seriously affect their bottom line, and we will not hesitate to seek the highest possible penalties,” Mr Sims said.

Overall, while data could still technically be described as ‘unlimited’, the fact is after a certain amount, data is speed-capped. If you’re interested in one of these phone plans, it’s important to read the Critical Information Summary to know how much full-speed data you’re getting and if there are any further restrictions.

What provider has the best ‘unlimited’ data phone plan?

It’s pretty much a two-horse race between Vodafone and Telstra, and it’s pretty tight but with a couple of marked differences.

  • Vodafone arguably provides more flexibility of the two, with the plan able to be bundled with a handset repayment or as a SIM-only deal.
  • Vodafone’s is a month-to-month option while Telstra’s is over a 12-month contract and is SIM-only.
  • Vodafone includes big international credit allowances, while Telstra includes none.

However, where Telstra shines is for its extras. You’ll get data-free subscriptions to a host of the most popular sports in Australia, as well as data-free music streaming through Apple Music, as well as Telstra Air – the network’s Wi-Fi hotspots littered around cities.

Which carrier’s phone plan is better is up to you and your needs. Do you value flexibility, or do you value a host of extra data-free goodies that can see your full-speed data go further? The decision is yours.

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