Planhacker: Complete Australian BYO Prepaid Cap Guide

Thinking about an iPhone 4 but don’t want to sign up for a contract? We’ve rounded up the available BYO cap deals so you can find the best no-strings plan for your shiny new phone.

Picture by goincase

Even if you’re not thinking of a new iPhone purchase, prepaid caps have a lot of potential advantages if you’ve already got a phone, or are planning to buy a new one outright. You’ve got a fixed cost to work with in terms of usage, but you’re not committed to a long-term contract.

The downside is that call rates can be higher than if you sign up to a new contract, you’ll have to pay for the phone you bring, and depending on rates you may be paying more than with an absolutely pay-as-you-go prepaid scheme. Also, not all providers offer prepaid cap options. (You can avoid some of those issues with a postpaid cap plan; we’ll examine those another time. We’ll also look at the new range of iPhone-specific plans as they get announced next week.)

In the table below, we’ve detailed all the prepaid caps that allow you to bring your own phone (sometimes described as SIM-only plans) that we could find in the Australian market. For each, we’ve outlined the monthly cost and how much “value” this is said to include (though this is sometimes made up of multiple components, not all of which can be “spent” on all possible services). We’ve also included the flagfall and the charge per minute seconds for calls and for sending text messages, which are a truer indication of the true cost of using those services.

Where providers offer free calls to other users on the same network, we’ve indicated this. Vodafone and 3, who are both owned by Vodafone, offer cross-network calling for new subscribers as part of their free “same network” deals. We haven’t included international call charges, as these vary so much based on where you call.

We’ve noted how much data is included with the cap and what you’ll pay for excess usage. While many smart phone owners find that their data usage is fairly minimal, the excess charges on these plans are often ridiculously high, and many don’t offer more than 50MB of data before they hit you with those fees. Boost, for instance, charges $1.32 per 60KB plus a flagfall, resulting in a whopping $22.75 per megabyte charge. Some providers will let you purchase additional data bundles to supplement your usage.

As ever, network reception plays an important role: a cheap deal is worthless if the phone doesn’t work where you live and work. If you’re switching to a network you’re unfamiliar with, ask friends and family for their experience, and pay close attention to online coverage maps. (One advantage of prepaid: if the network turns out to be a shocker, switching is much easier than with a contract.)

Some providers also feature various extras on their plans. 3, for instance, offers a choice of free access to social networking sites or selected news services in addition to data caps. While most providers have a standard 30-day credit expiry, Crazy John’s offers longer periods on its more expensive plans.

Here’s all the details: click on the image for a much larger and more legible version.

With most Planhacker columns, there’s not an obvious standout. In this case, for anyone using a moderate amount of data, 3 really does stick out from the rest of the pack (including plans from its sibling Vodafone). Its coverage is limited so it won’t be an option for everyone, but its charges and allowances for data are much more reasonable for data than anyone else listed.

If you want full details of the terms and conditions associated with each company, hit the links below:

Let us know about to any other good BYO cap deals you’ve found in the comments.

Lifehacker’s weekly Planhacker column rounds up the best communication deals.

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