Mobile plan deals with "unlimited" calls have long been a feature of the postpaid contract market, but they're now becoming increasingly common for no-contract prepaid deals as well. Which ones actually offer good value?
In recent weeks, we've seen newly-launched "unlimited" prepaid plans from Vodafone and Amaysim joining existing deals from Optus' various brands. While those plans are in fact anything but "unlimited" -- you can't make international calls on them for starters -- they do offer the potential to make lots of calls without being tied into a contract.
The details vary slightly, but a prepaid package of this type generally includes as many calls as you want to any landline or mobile number in Australian, texts within Australia and some sort of download allowance. The expiry period is usually 30 days (apart from Optus' $2 days deal). Voicemail, international calls and texts normally aren't covered, and 13 and 1800 numbers are typically an extra charge. Most plans let you use the credit value of the plan towards those options; those from Amaysim and Boost don't.
On plans using Optus' network, unlimited data usage for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, MySpace and eBay is included; on Vodafone, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, FourSquare and MySpace are free.
Many postpaid unlimited plans have a similar set of options. The obvious difference is that you won't be tied to a long-term contract with a prepaid deal. Conversely, you'll have to bring your own phone, and activating options such as overseas roaming will be trickier.
As with any mobile phone deal, you need to know your own usage habits before signing up. If you're not a heavy phone user, then going for one of these deals might actually mean you spend more money than a more conventional pay-as-you-go plan, or one with a longer expiry period. Don't be seduced by the "limitless" terminology and the idea that it's convenient into paying more than you need to. Also check on network coverage where you live: a limitless deal isn't much good if your phone never has any reception. (Note that Telstra doesn't offer any prepaid unlimited options.)
- Monthly cost: $39.90
- Network: Optus
- Notable features: Includes 4GB of data; excess data is 5 cents/megabyte or $9.90 for a 1GB block. Australian MMS and voicemail access also included as free.
- Comments: Given the high download allowance and cheap (by mobile standards) excess charges, this is worth considering if much of your usage will be online. If you do want to use non-standard options such as international calls a lot, the lack of any included credit could be an issue.
- Monthly cost: $40
- Network: Optus
- Notable features: Includes 3GB of data.
- Comments: A similar offering to the Amaysim bundle, but with slightly less data. Excess data is charged at a rather less reasonable $2 per megabyte.
- Monthly cost: $50, $70, $100
- Network: Optus
- Notable features: $50 includes 3GB of data; $70 includes 4GB; $100 includes 5GB. Each cap also includes the named amount as value for non-free calls (ie you get $50 general credit on the $50 plan).
- Comments: If you expect to make occasional international calls, these plans could be worth considering. If your main concern is Australian calls, Boost and Amaysim offer better value on the same network. Excess data is an expensive $2 per MB.
- Cost: $2 per day
- Network: Optus
- Notable features: Daily charge of $2 allows unlimited data access, and calls and texts to any network.
- Comments: The $2 Days plan uses an unusual model, where no charges apply unless you actually use the phone. A month of access on this plan would cost $60; unless you're using several gigabytes of data on your phone, there are cheaper deals available with similar features. If your phone is not in regular use, it's a stronger contender.
- Monthly cost: $35, $55
- Network: Vodafone
- Notable features: On the $35 plan, there's 250MB of data, and calls are only free between 7pm and 7am. The $55 plan drops the time limit and offers 1GB of data. Both include the 'face value' of the plan as additional credit. Excess data is 50 cents per megabyte.
- Comments: The $35 plan seems poor value; for $5 a month more, you can dump the time restrictions on other networks and get more data as well. Vodafone's network woes have made it a less than popular choice with many Lifehacker readers.
Given Vodafone's pricier offering, this does seem predominantly an Optus-driven market. If you don't need to make calls outside Australia and want a healthy data allowance, the Amaysim plan is hard to beat. If you do want credit for occasional use in other contexts, the $50 Optus cap is worth considering. For most people, the $2 Days deal won't be great value, but if you (for instance) travel overseas very regularly and use a different phone when you do, it might offer some value.
Know of another prepaid "unlimited" deal we've missed? (Note that free calls only to the same network are a different category.) Have your own strategy for getting better value from prepaid? Tell us in the comments.