Planhacker: Avoiding The Traps On Unlimited Caps

"Unlimited" mobile phone caps generally offer free calls to Australian phone numbers, but beyond that the conditions and details vary widely. Planhacker examines the traps associated with the unlimited deals on offer from Australia's major carriers.

If you make a lot of phone calls on your mobile and send a lot of text messages, then the appeal of an "unlimited" contract plan is easy to see. Rather than worrying about how much each call costs, you simply pay a monthly fee (which might also include a handset) and everything is covered. Or that's the theory.

The reality is, of course, that everything isn't covered. You'll have to pay separately and additionally for international calls, premium-rate numbers and other specialised services such as 13/1300 numbers. There'll usually be a "fair use" clause that prevents you from chatting and texting absolutely all the time. There are often also more insidious details: for instance, as we noted earlier in the week, Vodafone's Infinite plans don't let you utilise their data inclusions for tethering your mobile to another device. One area to check carefully is whether voicemail retrieval is free or an additional cost.

Below, we've listed the main conditions to watch out for on each of the unlimited plans, as well as their per month charge, general data allowances and other inclusions. Unless we've specified otherwise, these plans allow unlimited calls to Australian landline and mobile numbers, and unlimited texts and MMS messages to Australian mobiles. (That is of course different to being offered free on-network calls and texts.) Many plans include an allowance for international calls, but the rates on these may not be as generous as on other alternatives such as calling cards.

These plans are generally only available on a 24-month contract (we've mentioned any exceptions), and the data allowance can only be used within Australia and expires each month. Given the high prices, if you are signing up for a contract it makes sense to get an included phone as well.

3: Unlimited Caps

  • Vodafone and 3 continue to maintain distinct unlimited plans despite the merger between the two.
  • $79 plan includes 2GB of data; $99 includes 3GB; $119 includes 3GB and $60 for international calls. Excess data is charged at $0.10/Mb.
  • Unmetered browsing on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare and MySpace on all plans.
  • The $79 plan doesn't include calls to 13 and 1300 numbers; the others do.
  • The $79 plan charges 30 cents per 30 seconds plus a 35 cent flagfall to retrieve voicemail; voicemail is free on the other plans

Conclusions? Like Vodafone, the voicemail charges are high. The only notable advantage over the Infinite plans should you want the Vodafone/3 network is the ability to tether (there are also lower excess data charges).

Crazy John's: $79 Crazy Cap

  • Despite running on Vodafone's network, Crazy John's has an entirely different (and somewhat simpler) plan structure.
  • The $79 plan includes 3GB of data; excess data is charged at $0.50/Mb.
  • Calls to 13 and 1300 numbers aren't included.
  • There's no charge for voicemail retrieval.

Conclusions? The excess data charges are particularly high, but at least unlike Vodafone there's no anti-tethering rules.

Optus: Timeless

  • $99 plan includes 3GB of data; $115 includes 5GB and $100 for international calls; $129 includes 6GB and $180 for international calls. Excess data is charged at $0.25/Mb.
  • Unmetered browsing on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare, eBay and MySpace on all plans.
  • The $99 plan doesn't include calls to 13 and 1300 numbers; the others do.
  • The $99 plan charges 30 cents per 30 seconds to retrieve voicemail; voicemail is free on the other plans
  • Only available on a 12-month plan if you bring your own phone.
  • iPhone-buying customers have to use the Timeless Extreme plans; the $129 version is identical to the general Timeless plan, but the $99 version is more generous than its general counterpart, offering 5GB of data, free calls to 13/1300 numbers and no voicemail charges.

Conclusions? The $99 deal is somewhat tricksy if you're not an iPhone customer.

Telstra: $129 Next G Cap Plan

  • The $129 plan (which is the only one) includes 3GB of data and $50 for international calls. Excess data is charged at $0.15/Mb.
  • There's no charge for voicemail retrieval.

Conclusions? There's no choice of deals; if you want Telstra's network and an unlimited plan, this is what's on offer. That said, it's a pretty straightforward (if expensive) deal.

Virgin: Topless

  • Despite running on Optus' network, Virgin has an entirely different (and somewhat simpler) plan structure.
  • The $99 plan includes 4GB of data; excess data is charged at $0.20/Mb.
  • If you buy online, the $99 plan can be had for $89.
  • Calls to 13 and 1300 numbers aren't included.
  • There's no charge for voicemail retrieval.

Conclusions? If you do want this plan, buy it online. For the money, this is more generous than Optus' own offer.

Vodafone: Infinite

  • $45 plan includes 500MB of data; $65 includes 2GB and $65 for international calls; $85 includes 3GB and $85 for international calls; $100 includes 4GB and $100 for international calls. Excess data is charged at $0.25/Mb.
  • Unmetered browsing on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Foursquare and MySpace on all plans.
  • As we've already mentioned, you can't use Infinite data allowance for tethering.
  • Unlike all the other plans featured here, international text messages are also free.
  • Only the $100 plan includes calls to 13 and 1300 numbers.
  • All plans except the $100 plan charge for voicemail retrieval (35 cent connection plus 25 cents per 30 seconds).

Conclusions? Between the very high voicemail charges and the tethering restriction, it's quite hard to warm to these plans even without Vodafone's current network woes.

Know of an unlimited option that's not listed here? Tell us about it in the comments.

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


Comments

    In Voda:
    "As we’ve already mentioned, you can’t use Infinite data allowance for texting.
    Unlike all the other plans featured here, international text messages are also free."

    I think you mean tethering (not texting) on that first point ;)

      I think you might be right :) Thanks for the spot, fixed now.

    Another discussion which fudges on important facts.

    1. Virgin Mobile is just a brand owned by Singapore owned Optus. It doesn't simply use the Optus network, it's a part of Optus.

    2. Crazy Johns is just a brand owned by Vodafone; good luck there.

      Just how exactly does the ultimate ownership of those brands impact on a discussion of how their unlimited plans work from a consumer perspective? The network they use is important, since that's a coverage problem. Similarly, why is Optus being owned by Singtel relevant?

    Hey guys, I'm on the Voda $45 unltd. cap with my Desire HD, and found a loophole through the no-tether rule. Use an app called PDANet (you covered it already) and you can tether while making your phone think it's merely using it's own internet. Fast and easy!

    I don't see Telstra as expensive, I see the other networks as cheap.

    The main difference is when you're on Optus & Vodafone you can look at your new phone, but if your on Telstra you can actually use your phone.

      Could you please expand on that last sentence "The main difference is when you’re on Optus & Vodafone you can look at your new phone, but if your on Telstra you can actually use your phone."

      I am on the Vodafone $65 because of the exclusive rights to the HTC Desire Z and can use my phone just fine.

    Thanks Alex - good info as always.
    Did you look and see if these plans also include 1800 numbers? From experience they can be charged at seperate rates to 13 or regular calls.

      Appeared to be the same deal for both when I checked. Also, my name is not Alex :)

    "As we’ve already mentioned, you can’t use Infinite data allowance for tethering"

    A comment on that page claims they've changed the ToS to include tethered data under the paid data.

    I've used my DS online a fair bit and am quite sure they're correct.

      The policy was subsequently changed, as we reported when it happened.

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