Mobile phone plans are often sold on their total cap value and their general call rate, but the charges for texts, MMS messages and voicemail access can quickly mount up. Planhacker compares what's on offer from the major providers.
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In our Planhacker tables comparing mobile phone deals (such as those for Android, BlackBerry and the iPhone 4), we generally include the basic call rates and the charges for data. Those are major factors when you're choosing a phone plan, but there are also other elements: what are the charges for MMS? How much do international text messages cost? And will you pay a fortune to retrieve voicemail?
We haven't included that information in tables so far because the details would quickly become overwhelming, and because those policies tend to be very similar the same across carriers and plans. Nonetheless, they're worth considering, especially if your own usage patterns include a lot of voicemail retrieval, or an endless succession of text messages overseas.
As such, we've decided to examine them here in their own separate feature, one that's worth checking any time you're thinking about switching mobile providers, with or without a phone. (International call rates are a complex topic which we'll revisit in a future Planhacker column, and we also haven't looked at plans which offer 'unlimited' calls, as that's also a thornier issue.)
In the listing below, we've summarised the call charges found on fixed-value cap and prepaid plans for individuals across the major carriers. For each, we've listed what the standard call charges are (the flagfall connection plus a per-30 second rate), how much SMS and MMS messages cost locally and internationally, and what the charges are for accessing voicemail. We've included a range where call rates vary (typically, a higher monthly cap spend equates to a lower rate per 30 seconds). Where carriers haven't specified their relevant rates online, we've included a dash — that doesn't mean the service is free!
Generally we've quoted the highest applicable rate — there's often discounts for talking to callers on the same network, though this varies between plans. Plans with cheaper rates for SMS may have a volume restriction, while at the other end of the spectrum many networks offer unlimited texts within Australia on some of their higher-priced plans.
For actual calls, 3 charges higher rates once you 'roam' off its network and onto Telstra's on some plans. On the table, we've quoted that higher rate, since you won't have control over which rate you get charged on if you need to make a call.
Click on the link to access the table in PDF format.
When picking a network, you still need to consider basic issues such as coverage in your area; available handsets if you're signing up to a contract plan; whether you want a long-term contract; expiry periods for prepaid plans; and data inclusions. Having assessed your usage patterns, though, these call charging details can be an important extra consideration.
What are the big lessons here? While there are some very fixed prices on offer — around 25 cents for standard Australian texts, for instance — there's usually a little variation between prepaid and postpaid plans on call rates, and a little more variation than you might expect even within a single provider for different calling patterns. (The big exception to this rule is Vodafone, which has the same rates on virtually all its caps plans.)
Unsurprisingly, international texts are generally more expensive (though Vodafone is a notable exception.) There's not much competition for sending MMS messages, especially to international phones where 75 cents is the universal rate. Everyone wants to charge for voicemail retrieval except Virgin Mobile; it's common to offer the same rates for regular calls (and sometimes the flagfall is omitted), but that's still an expense to consider.
For further plan details from each company, here's the site links:
Aware of a favourable rate deal for texts, MMS and the like that we haven't mentioned? (As ever, we don't claim omniscience.) Share it in the comments.
Lifehacker's weekly Planhacker column rounds up the best communication deals.