Virgin Mobile enters iPhone fray: where’s the best deal now?

As expected, Virgin Mobile has officially launched its iPhone plans in Australia — and they look like a relative bargain. With 3 also launching iPhone data plans (even though it can’t sell the phones), Optus updating its plans soon after launch and Telstra dropping its data charges yesterday, the plan landscape is now looking rather different than it did on iPhone launch day just three weeks ago. Click the jump for our analysis of where the best deals are now (assuming you can find someone with a phone in stock).
Firstly, Virgin’s new offerings. For $70 a month on a 24-month
contract, you get an 8GB iPhone, 1GB of data a month and $520 in call
and text credits. For $100 a month, the data goes up to 5GB. That makes
Virgin easily the most generous of the options if you’re focused on
getting a decent data deal. There’s an $80 unlock fee, plus a $250
“early evacuation” fee if you quit within six months, as well as having
to pay out the rest of the contract. So it’s not a great way to get an
iPhone to use elsewhere, but it’s a good deal for a new buyer.
How do the alternatives stack up? Optus still has the most
comprehensive range of plans: if you’re confident that you won’t need
lots of data, then it’s the cheapest entry level option. If you do need
data (that is, you plan to use the iPhone as an applications platform
rather than a fashion accessory), then the Timeless plans are much more
generous than the high-end, $149 a month with just 1GB included option
that Optus initially launched. But given that Optus and Virgin both use
the Optus network, at this level you’d be better off looking at Virgin
Telstra’s price reductions make its data options slightly better value
than before, but they’re still considerably more expensive than the
rival services. If you’re in a rural location where Next G is the only
available choice, then you might have to wear this, but for anyone with
a range of signal options, Telstra still looks seriously pricey. With
that said, if you regularly spend time in locations where Telstra has
Wi-Fi, it could work out OK. (Bear in mind though that there are fewer
in Australia than there used to be, so you could be facing a diet of
3’s BYO iPhone plans offer data rates that are cheaper than even
Virgin’s — but of course the Virgin prices include getting the phone
as well. If you’ve bought an iPhone to unlock (most likely through
Optus), then this is definitely one to consider.
As for Vodafone, there’s basically no way we’d recommend selecting its
plans to anyone, given the continued inability of the company to decide
what its data policy is. Despite Vodafone’s earlier statements
that data can’t be included in its overall monthly caps, we’ve had lots
of readers commenting that they’re still being told by Vodafone
resellers that they can use their credits for data. Vodafone has also
basically adopted a “no comment” policy when it comes to explaining how
its terms and conditions should be interpreted in the first place. Never answering any
questions might seem to work for Apple, but when it comes to putting
down money on a long-term contract, customers deserve better — and
Vodafone simply isn’t offering it.
So even though Vodafone looks like a
reasonable choice on the surface for frequent overseas travellers,
we’d be looking elsewhere first.

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