Planhacker: iPhone 4S Australian Launch Pricing Compared

Optus, Telstra, Vodafone and Virgin Mobile have all announced their contract launch pricing for the iPhone 4S, which goes on sale this Friday from 8am. Find the plan that has the right options and pricing for you with our complete Planhacker spreadsheet.

Apple has been boasting that the iPhone 4S has already attracted more than a million pre-orders worldwide, so there’s no reason to doubt that its latest iPhone incarnation will be a big success. Especially for existing iPhone owners on the older 3GS model, the 4S can be a logical upgrade choice — but before signing up to a long-term contract, you should make sure that the deal is right for you.

If you don’t want to sign up to a contract, Apple will sell you an unlocked phone outright, charging $799 for the 16GB model, $899 for 32GB or $999 for 64GB. That’s not a cheap price, so it isn’t surprising that many people prefer to get a subsidised handset from a carrier, even if that limits their flexibility.

In the table below, we’ve detailed all the currently announced iPhone 4S plans from the three major Australian carriers, plus Virgin (which is actually an Optus subsidiary and uses the Optus network). For each, we’ve detailed what you’ll pay for the plan and what you’ll pay as a handset subsidy, which add up to the total monthly cost; the length of the contract and the total amount you’ll pay; how much data and “call value” is included, and what you’ll pay for excess data; and charges for calls to Australian numbers (which invariably involve both a flagfall and a per-minute charge) and for texts to Australian numbers.

Optus and Vodafone both offer 12-month or 24-month contracts (though Vodafone sneakily only announced its 12-month plans today after having its 24-month options on sale for several days; I’ve updated the table today to include both options). Note though that while a 12-month contract doesn’t tied you down, the per-month fees are much higher.

There’s a lot of data in the table below, but to make the most of it you can filter out the details you need. Click on the arrows at the top of each column and you can either sort (so, for example, you can list all plans sorted by per-month cost or total cost or data allowance) or filter (so you can only look at plans for 32GB phones or with unlimited text).

Cheap per-month plans are often offset by high handset charges. For instance, Vodafone’s $29 per month plans work out as poor value, since they cost $44 a month in total for a 16GB model and still only offer a poor 200MB of data a month. For $10 a month more, you can get much more data (1500MB) and call credit. (And after all that, you still might not trust the network in your area.)

Vodafone and Virgin Mobile’s call rates are higher than the others, but everyone charges at least 90 cents a minute plus flagfall, except on higher-priced “unlimited” plans. Data is an important consideration, though if you regularly use Wi-Fi you may not need massive amounts. That said, I wouldn’t want a plan with less than 1500MB a month on offer. Total cost of ownership also varies widely: the cheapest option is from Vodafone (that self-same poor-value $29 per month 24-month contract), while the priciest is from Telstra ($3216 over two years, though that covers the 64GB model and unlimited Australian calls). As ever, knowing your own usage patterns will help you identify the best options.

Obviously, a crucial factor in choosing a carrier is availability where you live and work: there’s no point getting a bargain phone if you never get signal. Broadly speaking, Telstra has the best coverage, followed by Optus and then Vodafone, which has spent most of 2011 trying to convince consumers that it is implementing improvements to make its network viable. But generalisations don’t always help, and this remains a highly individual issue: all three carriers have black spots and congestion issues.

We’ve covered the most critical pricing elements for each carrier, but your own usage patterns may vary. If you frequently make international calls on your mobile, then those rates will matter. None of the main carriers offers free voicemail as standard, but if you’re a heavy messaging user, that’s also a consideration.

If you want to check further details for each carrier, here are their plan sites:

Which iPhone 4S plan tempts you the most? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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

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