There are dozens of prepaid plans on the market which offer "unlimited" calls in Australia without tying you to a contract, but which offer the best value? Planhacker rounds up every deal currently on offer.
Picture by Sven Leichner
We looked at this category back in June last year, but there have been a number of additions to the market since, including Red Bull and Savvytel, and changes to existing provider offerings. This time around, we've also done a full spreadsheet so you can compare and rank the options that matter to you.
To appear on this listing, prepaid plans must offer unlimited calls to standard Australian mobile and landline numbers, as well as free texting to Australian mobiles. While every plan will include a "fair use" call to prevent you hanging on the phone 24/7, in practice you shouldn't have to spend more than the specified amount each month or track how long you're on the phone for if you're only making calls to these kinds of numbers.
Telstra doesn't offer any plans that fit this description to prepaid customers, so your network choice is Optus and Vodafone. Should you choose the latter, you're essentially picking between Vodafone itself and Red Bull. (Vodafone's biggest MVNO operator is Crazy John's, but it doesn't offer any "unlimited" plans either.)
As well as having more wholesale customers, Optus is generally reckoned to have the better coverage of the two. In 2011, Vodafone spent large amounts of money to try and improve its oft-derided network, but we haven't tested the effectiveness of those upgrades in recent months, and got poor results the last time we did.
Incidentally, when we discussed this back in June, several readers mentioned TPG's no-contract prepaid plans. These don't fit our criteria for this listing, since they do have an assigned dollar value, rather than offering "unlimited" Australian calls and texts. We've also excluded the $35 Vodafone All-Time plan, since it limits the times of day when you can make free calls.
In the table below, we've listed all the unlimited prepaid plans we know of. For each, we've identified which network they use; how much you pay for a recharge and how long that lasts; how much data usage that includes; what you'll be charged for excess data; and any charges for voicemail. The vast majority of these plans offer free access to voicemail and allow MMS as well as basic text messages, but we've noted the ones that don't. We haven't included additional special deals such as online-only bonuses or cheap handset offers.
The 'call credit' column indicates whether your monthly fee also includes credit which can be used for other options (such as 1300 numbers, international calls, excess data or voicemail charges). Plans that don't include credit will often let you purchase add-on credit to access those options. In practice, these unlimited plans make the most sense if you know virtually all your calling will be to standard Australian numbers. If you find yourself regularly buying 'top ups' for other purposes, a different plan structure might give you better value.
Here's the table: you can click on any column header to sort or filter, so you can view (for example) only plans running on a specific network or with a particular expiry period.
In practice, the most competitive space is around the $40 a month mark, where Amaysim, Boost, Red Bull and Savvytel all have similar offerings. Plans below that price tend to have minimal data inclusions and less than 30 days to expiry; higher-priced plans offer longer expiry but have few other extra inclusions.
A few quirks to note: on the Red Bull access 365 plan, data access is 5GB per month -- you can't chew through the whole allowance in a week. Calls to 1300 and 1800 numbers are also free on the Red Bull plan.
The $2 Days plans from Optus work unusually: on any given day you use them to make a call or send a text, you'll immediately be charged $2 but can then make as many calls (and use as much data as you like). As such, they're bad value if you use your phone to make calls or send texts every day (since you'll chew up all the credit well ahead of the expiry period), but potentially useful if you alternate between busy and non-busy periods, or can safely assume you'll receive calls more often than you make them.
Given the wide range of pricing variation, I'd be especially wary of the Optus-utilising plans charging $2 a megabyte for excess data if you're a smartphone user.
Hit the links below for plan details direct from each provider:
Know of a plan that we've missed? Got experience (good or bad) with one of these deals? Tell us in the comments.
Lifehacker's weekly Planhacker column rounds up the best communication deals.