Planhacker: Australian iPhone 4 Contract Plan Guide 2011

Six months on from its initial release, Apple’s iPhone 4 remains one of the most popular choices for smartphone users anywhere, and the wealth of local contract deals can make for confusing comparison shopping. This week Planhacker rounds up every iPhone 4 contract plan for Australia in one handy listing.

In the table below, we’ve outlined the contract deals available to purchase the iPhone 4 from 3, Optus, Telstra, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone. While you can also buy the phone outright from Apple and add your own plan, that’s a subject for entirely separate discussion. If you do choose the contract option, you’ve got a lot of potential choices to work through, though there have been changes since launch. Optus, for instance, has eliminated 12 month contract options; Telstra has added an unlimited plan and an odd selection of non-cap options; Vodafone and 3 have extended free cross-network calling to customers of both networks; and Virgin has added new Topless plans while removing some others.

For each plan, we’ve highlighted the costs involved, including the monthly network access and handset fees (if applicable) and the total minimum cost over the contract (invariably 24 months except in the case of Vodafone) — remember that you’ll pay more if you use more than your cap value, make international calls or use premium rate lines; the included call value and the flagfall charge per minute for standard calls; how much data is included, and how much you’ll pay for casual extra data; the charges for SMS and MMS messages in Australia; and any other notable features. (Telstra’s handset charge is an upfront fee, but we’ve divided it into monthly instalments for comparison purposes. We haven’t included one-off deals like web specials.)

You can see all the details in the spreadsheet below. You can also access this table in PDF format for easy printing and comparison. (We’re working to add sorting and other features to the online versions of Planhacker tables.)

While cost is important, it’s not the only criterion. As ever, network performance is a crucial consideration. Optus has often been criticised in the past for flaky reception on iPhones; Telstra has a well-developed network but charges the most; Vodafone’s performance (and hence 3’s by implication) has been the subject of heavy criticism recently. The bottom line? Check coverage maps carefully and find out if neighbours have reception problems if you’re moving to a network that you’re not currently using.

iPhone 4 supplies remain tight, and many providers will quote a long waiting time. If you’re not looking at the cheapest plans it makes sense to insist on the 32GB model, since at higher price levels neither version carriers a handset charge. (That said, 16GB models seem more widely available.)

There’s not generally much to distinguish call rates, save that Virgin’s are the highest. The disappearance of 12-month plans from Optus’ range is unfortunate; it has also shrunk the overall number of caps it offers, while slightly raising data allowances on a couple. Telstra’s data allowances have risen slightly, but it doesn’t have any bargain-priced offerings in its cap range. Its $100 iPhone plan is very much an oddity — the $99 cap seems better value. Oddly, its lower-priced iPhone caps are only listed for sale with the pricier 32GB model. The included $5 of data is something of a joke.

Vodafone’s introduction of its Infinite plans mean major differences remain between it and 3 in plan terms, despite the two being branches of the same organisation. If you want a 12-month contract, it’s the only deal in town, but you will pay high handset charges for the privilege. The 3 “pack” plans (sometimes confusingly described as iCaps) oddly include separate credit for general calls and Vodafone/3 network calls.

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

Which iPhone 4 deals appeal to you right now? Let us know (and point out any corrections — it’s a large table and we don’t claim to be perfect) in the comments.

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

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