Planhacker: Australians Are Getting More Clueless About Phone Bills

Many of our Planhacker roundups delve into the finer details of how much you'll pay for different kinds of calls. That's information which is essential to making sure you get value for money from your phone, but new research suggests that mobile phones are making the majority of Australians more clueless than ever when it comes to assessing their phone bills.

Communications regulator ACMA recently conducted research into Australian attitudes towards phone pricing, as part of its ongoing assessment into how telephone numbers should be structured in Australia. The disturbing immediate finding was that a large number of Australians have no idea what it costs to call different kinds of numbers, or even that different costs apply to different network types.

The mobile phone appears to be the major culprit here. According to ACMA's survey of 1,500 customers, it has now become the primary means of communications for most Australians, with 47% saying a mobile was their main communication service. The humble landline only had that status for 33%, as you can see above.

Another notable trend is the switch towards some kind of capped usage plan, rather than a pay-as-you-go approach. 60% of mobile users adopt this approach, as do 40% of landline users. For a majority of customers, their spending doesn't exceed the cap value each month. That means there's no bill shock in many cases, but also little understanding of actual calling habits.

The end result is that many consumers don't understand the different rates which apply to calling landline numbers, mobile numbers, and freecall numbers such as 13 or 1800 numbers. Those costs can vary enormously depending on your plan and which network you use. Calls to mobiles from landlines are generally more expensive; calls to landlines from landlines may actually be free on certain plans. Calls on mobiles often incur higher charges, though some prepaid plans offer free calls to other numbers on the same network.

Clearly we're not going to a return to a world of unified, easy-to-understand call rates any time soon. However, not knowing what applies to the plan you're signed up for can be a recipe for fiscal pain. No matter what your habits, the key to getting good value from a phone service is to understand your usage patterns, and choosing a plan which makes that affordable.


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


    having just moved to travel around Australia from the UK for a long period of time, I have found the internet/mobile phone connections and plans absolutely archaic.I am now on my 4th sim card and 1st plan and cannot understand the Australian way of communication at all..totally bizarre and incredibly expensive and mind boggling trying to navigate your way around it.

    I think the problem is that the phone companies deliberately mask the true price that people are paying for their services.

    Say you have a $49 cap, it will be advertised as having $500 value. The prices for call costs, SMS and everything else will then be based on the idea that you are getting $500 worth of them instead of $49.

    So the call rate of 90c a minute (I'm grabbing all of these numbers from the first Optus plan I could see on their site) is actually ~9c a minute based on what you're actually paying.

    If they ended this cap nonsense and told us the true amounts we were paying, I bet a lot more people would be able to make the correct decision on what is the best plan for them to be on.

      I like the idea, then they couldn't charge you through the (_O_) when you go over your "cap"

        You had the option of the little o or the big one.. Why did you opt for the big one? :)

    Caveat emptor, MOFOs!

    Why does the graph add up to more than 100%?

    I've never understood why poll-ers will graph responses in a percentage if they're going to allow respondents to give more than one answer.

      Graph adds up to 101% (excusable rounding).

      The top line (mobile text or voice) is not really a graph element, just a random aggregation to indicate that 47% of primary comms is done by mobiles.

    Have you ever read you bill and tried to decifier it...especially on an upgrade... the also make them deliberatly difficult to follow(has gotten better). Personally, my optus unlimited txt, mms, email is sweet, so I send as many as I like. and consume helps me see I never go over my call cap... $59 is sweet for me and my iPhone 4.

    The article highlights the problem: phone bills and rates are almost impossible to decipher. If anyone can point us to a way to Decode phone rates, that would be helpful.

    Like the first poster, when I moved to Australia I found cell phone plans and coverage to be an absolute farce. This "Get $500 value for $49" is utter nonsense, and it blows my mind that the companies can get away with it. I can't wait until Optus tries to give me $1,000 worth of "value" while doubling their call charges. Do they really think I'm that stupid?

    I wonder what would happen if a mobile company introduced true pricing: $49/month gets you X minutes of calls, Y text messages, and Z mb of data, like most do in the States (and presumably elsewhere in the world). Would consumers flock to them because they'd appreciate the clarity, or would they feel ripped off because they're not getting "$500 value" each month?

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