Planhacker: Comparing Data Offers On Prepaid Cap Plans

Woolworths' new prepaid cap plan is attracting a lot of attention from smartphone users for its 5GB of included data and 45 day expiry period for $29, but there are conditions attached. How does the new offer compare with similar deals from rivals? Planhacker investigates.

Picture by erostrend

It wasn't that long ago that the words "data" and "prepaid" didn't sit too well together at all. While there are still prepaid plans out there which charge $2 a megabyte on casual or excess use, the growing use of smartphones means that it isn't just early adopters who want a decent data allowance on their phone but don't want to be tied to a long-term contract.

Woolworths' arrival into this space with a rebranded Optus service is a clear signal that decent data allocations on prepaid plans are now well and truly a mass-market concern. At first glance Woolworths' cheapest offer -- a $29 plan that includes 5GB of data and a 45-day expiry -- sounds impressive. That is a lot of data, but be warned: Woolworths also imposes almost every annoying condition you can think of on it.

First off, you can't use the data for tethering, where your phone acts as a 3G modem and provides an internet connection for your PC. For many people, this would be the chief reason to have a high data allowance on their phone. (In practice, the tethering restriction is only readily enforced on the iPhone, but that is Australia's most popular mobile phone.)

Secondly, every time you make a connection, you'll be charged in 1MB increments, which is higher than some other providers, though typical of Optus resellers. That calculation will include both uploads and downloads (which is the standard across 3G providers). If you make frequent small separate downloads visiting sites, those 1MB totals can add up fast.

Thirdly, there's no unmetered content included. On its own plans, Optus offers unmetered access to Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, LinkedIn, eBay and MySpace, and that offer is seen from many of the companies that resell Optus services (there's also a similar deal from Vodafone). But it isn't seen anywhere on the Woolworths offer. Indeed, one of my biggest criticisms of the Woolworths bundle is that at launch, the site doesn't even include basic details about call rates or much about inclusions -- very poor customer service.

If your main aim is just to have a generous data service on your phone and you're not fussed about tethering or call rates, the Woolworths deal is probably worth examining. But before coughing up, you should consider the available alternatives. Our Planhacker guide will help with that task.

In the table below, we've compared the cheapest available prepaid cap plans with reasonable data offerings from each of the main providers. For this purpose, we've defined a prepaid cap plan as one which charges a set price for a fixed period and includes a bundle of text, voice and data services in set quantities, but which doesn't commit you to a contract. We haven't included plans that offer less than 1GB of data. Most of these providers offer more expensive options, but we've concentrated on the cheapest available offer since in many cases (Woolworths included) spending extra money increases call credit rather than data options.

We've listed the cost and expiry period, the amount of included data (in MB), the minimum amount consumed on each connection, whether you can use the plan to tether your computer, and what services (if any) are included as unmetered data. (In that list, FB is Facebook, TW is Twitter, FS is Foursquare, LI is LinkedIn, EB is eBay and MS is MySpace.)

To provide a comparison between plans with different expiry periods, we've calculated how many MB you could use each day without exceeding your data limit, and how many MB you get per dollar assuming you use everything but don't exceed the limit.

Here's the full table; click on it for a larger version.

There are two fundamental issues you need to consider before signing up for any plan. The first is coverage. A cheap offer is worthless if you can't get any signal where you live and work. Every carrier has coverage maps on its site, but these don't tell the whole story. The only way to be sure is to check in the locations that matter to you, so if you're switching to a network you haven't used before, try and get access to a friend or relative's phone and test before buying. (At least with prepaid, you're not making a long-term commitment to an unusable service.)

The second is what is included apart from data and how much you're going to use it. Woolworths offers lots of data -- its rate per megabyte is the cheapest in this list -- but its call rates are high and it imposes other conditions. How important that is will vary between individuals; if your phone is mostly a portable computer for browsing and you make few calls or texts and don't want to tether, the distinctions might not matter. It's also worth noting that anyone with an Everyday Rewards card will get an extra 10% off on recharges, making the Woolworths offer even cheaper. Again, though, the lack of tethering will put off some users.

While everyone's circumstances will differ, there are some other general observations worth making. If you want access to the Telstra network, you're stuck with getting less data for the money (though the priciest option here is from Crazy John's, which offsets its willingness to charge the smallest data increments). If you want a super-cheap plan with 1GB of data, TPG and Virgin are the best bet. TPG has a slight edge since it counts data in smaller chunks. (Note that we didn't include Optus $2 days offer, which offers "unlimited" data every day you use it for $2, since it isn't a cap plan as such. It also doesn't offer tethering.)

For overall value, Amaysim remains the best deal. Its plans include unlimited calls within Australia, which is better than anyone else on the list. (Boost runs close but only has 3GB.) They also include unlimited social networking browsing, which in practice makes them slightly more competitive with Woolworths' offer despite the latter including an extra 1G of data each month. I certainly can't see the point of getting the Woolworths $49 deal, since the Amaysim and Boost deals give you unlimited calls for less money on the same network.

If you want to delve fully into the details for each plan here, we've linked to the carrier sites below:

Got your own take on which prepaid cap plan offers the best value, or spotted one we've missed? Tell us in the comments.

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


Comments

    Iam on Telstra, if u top up $60 u get 3GB Data, but if u use the $60 to buy a 4GB BrowsePack u get 7GB in total.

    I think you missed the best plan: Amaysim 1GB for $10 a month. If you use more you can set it to recharge in $10 increments per 1gb.

    I strugggle to use more than 1gb, so it works out pretty well. You would have to use more than 3gb a month for the woolies deal to be economical.

      Didn't include that as it's an odd-on to a PAYG plan, not a cap option as such.

        Not sure of the practical difference. PAYG costs $0 per month, no contract, just buy sim for $2. Put $10 data add on each month, get 1GB of data each month. Only costs $10 a month and no contract. You can auto renew to stop excess fees, but these days it is easy to keep track.
        How is that different to a cap? Is there some advantage in the others I am not seeing?
        I run a 7" android tablet so I am always looking for best data plan ~1gb, don't care if I have to change phone number or sim card as it is data only. $10 for 1gb is the best I can do. Hope there is something better.

          You're right, it is a definitional difference -- the Woolworths plans that kicked me off on this line include calls and data, so I wanted to compare them to plans that include calls and data. If data is absolutely all you want, then the Amaysim PAYG would be the best option right now on the Optus network.

            I'm almost an unpaid spokesman for Amaysim with all the business I drum up for them!! Their Amaysim Unlimited deal is incredible value. Over and above what's mentioned in the article they also have outstanding international rates (again with no flagfall) which also makes it a great option for people just in Oz for a couple of months, say.

            I'd be interested to see some kind of Planhacker for VOIP->PSTN companies (like any of the providers that give a local Oz number for your overseas contacts, or those which use data your end and PSTN at the other).

            I know it's a niche audience but I'd be interested to see what other people. I'm a Rebtel user myself as their Oz number is obviously free to me in my unlimited Oz minutes from Amaysim but I'd be interested to see if other providers can beat their call rates.

    Ehm... I was fairly sure Boost was only 3Gb not 4...

      Ach, you're right. Fixing now.

    good luck stopping people using tethering - this isn't an Apple world any longer - we're free!

    You've said you chose the "Cheapest plan with reasonable data offerings" from each carrier. Most of them have 1Gb caps, so I'm assuming that's your baseline for "reasonable data offering"

    On that basis, Telstra has a whole range of options cheaper than the $60 plan you mentioned.
    - The $40 "Prepaid Cap+" plan has 1Gb of data, which meets your requirements.
    - The $40 "Text and Data" plan has 1.5Gb of data
    - The $50 "Weekend+" plan has 2Gb of data

    So that's three options that fall below your supposed are cheaper than your supposed "cheapest" plan, yet still meet your criteria for "reasonable" amounts of data.

    In addition, any of Telstra prepaid options let you use your base credit to purchase extra data packs; so for instance the $30 "Prepaid Cap+" or "Text and data" plans (which already have 500Mb of data) can have another 700Mb added by 'spending' $20 of the base credit. These options are even cheaper, yet still meet your "reasonable data" threshold.

      Sometimes I hate trying to find info on Telstra's site. You're right -- I'll update the listing in due course.

    In addition to my previous comments - you've stated that Telstra's data plans have a minimum charge unit of 100Kb. This is only true of the "Text + Data" plans; all other plans have a minimum unit of 1Kb.

      Now updated with Text+Data as the featuered plan. Thanks for the pointers James.

    Thanks. Going with Amaysim as soon as my contract with Vodafone ends. I'm sick of being on contracts. Great to see we can still have good data plans without having to lock into them for 2 years. Good riddance to Vodafone!

    Is unlimited social network site browsing really that big a feature? I mean, sure, on a 100MB plan it would make a big difference, but as the standard monthly allowance creeps beyond 1GB per month, does it matter that much? How much data could one person really download only on Facebook, Twitter etc., even if they are a heavy user - enough to make a dent in a 3GB allowance?

    It feels like "unlimited social networking" has become more of a marketing move than a significant benefit for users.

      unlimited social networking can be a big issue if the alternative is downloading small twitter updates every few minutes but being billed as if they're 1 meg. I can't comment about facebook as I don't use it.

        Don't confuse downloading small files with download sessions, which is what is billed. Optus bill in 1mb sessions. On my tab at least, I can get multiple downloads from multiple sites all included in 1 session of 1mb. If the 1mb min billing mattered, then my phone useage meter would read a lot lower than the downloads billed on my account on the amaysim website. Strangely the two are pretty even. Depends on how your device handles connection sessions. It is confusing though.

    The landscape has changed significantly over the past 12 months with data becoming a key selling point for most prepaid mobile plans today. I have been using Optus Turbo Cap Plus now for 2 months and with their free access to social network sites I hardly touch my data allowance of 500MB. So whilst having lots of data might sound great, look to start with what you need rather than what looks most appetising for the price.

    Warning! Call rates on the new Woolies plan are VERY HIGH: 89C min + 39c flagfall for starters; that's $1.28 to say "Hi, I'm 10mins late. See ya." Seems that would chew up basic $250 'worth' pretty fast.

    But, equal warning: Amaysim's customer service, eg for transfer over/start-up procedures, is 1000% BAD: WRONG INFO, mis-leading, unreliable, illogical, sanity-sapping, incomprehen-sible...& etc!!! Seems another "Amazin" case of new-age communications company that can't figure the communications basics. Only if you can bear the cost of the potential angst, then go for their Unlimited Deal, which IS actually amazing.

    I just heard about the tethering issue.
    How do they know if you are doing it?
    Why would they want you not to do it?

    Warning!!! I purchased a Woolworths sim card and $29 credit because of the 5gb of data for my pc tablet. It will NOT let you access the internet with the tablets, only phones. Nice one Woolworths. I didnt see that mentioned anywhere.

    Hi

    Im on the woolworths cap plan at the moment, but thinking of switching back to amaysim again because with the Woolworths plan u get $250 optus to Optus but I hardly use that part of the cap so i'm wasting $250, I really like the big data 5gigs that they give u. If I choose the unlimited $40 offer from amaysim, I would also have to spend another $10 for the data coz I use the Internet on my iphone everyday so that's about $50. Could anyone give me advice on whether i should switch to amaysim or stay with woolworths? Thanks

    There is actually unmetered data with the Woolworths plan but it isn't social networking. There are zero data gprs entries in usage which aren't charged for. These seem to be Google access but I'm not sure what aspects of Google aren't charged. Not that it matters much considering the generous data.

    switch to optus prepaid, they have an offer called $2.00 days for smart phones, just recharge $30 a month and you get unlimited data, calls and text all for just $2.00 a day and credit will last 30 days, its the best prepaid offer out there for smartphones

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