Optus is revamping its mobile contract plans, shifting to quoting prices per-minute and offering an option to temporarily change plans if you exceed your monthly allowance for voice and data. The big downside? The cheapest plans are being dumped altogether, data and voice allocations are being reduced on the lower-cost plans, and the overall value isn't any better. Overall, we're not that excited.
Optus announced the new deals, branded as 'My Plan', today, and they will be available from 1 July (that's Monday next week, folks). The most obvious changes up front? The cheapest plans ($30 and $35 a month) have been ditched altogether for contract buyers, as has the top tier $130-a-month Timeless plan. Rather than quoting a call value in dollars, Optus is quoting a total number of call minutes. It also now offers free SMS on all plans.
While per-minute pricing might seem to make life simpler and is something a lot of consumers have suggested they would like, it doesn't necessarily mean you're getting better value, especially if you don't use your allocation up on the cheapest plans anyway. Optus says 50 per cent of its customers experience bill shock; I'm not totally convinced these plans will change that.
On most plans, the total number of two-minute calls (the standard measure used to compare call costs under the TCP code) is actually lower, albeit not by much. The new $50 plan offers 450 call minutes, which equates to 225 2-minute calls; the old $50 plan offered 232. A similar situation applies to the $60 (300 calls on new, 302 calls on old) and $80 (400 on new, 395 on old).
In practice, people are more likely to exceed their data allocation than their call allowance, and in that respect the new plans are generally much worse news, since they offer less data than their predecessors. The new $50 plan includes 500MB of data; the old $50 plan offered 1000MB. The new $60 plan features 1000MB, while its predecessor offered 1500MB. Data allocations for the $80 plan (2000MB) and the $100 plan are unchanged (3000MB).
Rather than charging per-MB for excess data, Optus now upgrades in tiers, a scheme which it has already been applying to some customers. On the $60 and above plans, you pay $10 for each additional 1GB or part thereof, to a maximum of 20GB. (That represents better value that the old $130 Timeless plan, which offered 4GB; you could now score that for $110.) On the $50 plan, you can also pay $5 for 500MB of data.
A similar arrangement applies for voice calls. You can pay $5 extra to shift from 450 call minutes to 600, another $10 to move from 600 minutes to 800 and another $10 to move from 800 minutes to unlimited. Those changes happen automatically if you exceed your allowance, but only apply in that month.
- Both SMS and MMS is now free across all plans. (Previously, SMS was free on plans above $50 anyway, but MMS was only free on plans above $80.)
- Usage notification texts when you have reached 50, 85 and 100 per cent of your monthly allocations. However, this is something Optus would have been required to do under the TCP Code by September, even if it hadn't changed any of its plans.
- Per-minute billing is arguably less confusing, though not actually better value.
- Existing customers can switch elect to switch into the new plans without extending their contract. If you're on the $50 or $60 plan, you'll also keep your existing higher data allowance. In practical terms, that suggests that if you want an Optus phone on a cheaper plan, signing up before next week would make sense.
- Optus' online portal offers improved usage checking options.
- No cheaper contract plans for customers with lower data needs. $50 a month is now the entry point for an Optus contract including a phone, which eliminates one of its points of distinction from Telstra.
- Less generous data allocations for customers on cheaper plans. This seems like a fairly shameless attempt to push customers onto pricier plans, given than data usage continues to increase. According to Optus, customer research suggests people are happier with a smaller allocation and less bill shock. I suspect customers would prefer a bigger allocation and less bill shock, but then I don't have to run a telco.
- The simplicity of per-minute billing is offset by having three different tiers for excess usage, depending on which plan you sign up for.
Is it worth it?
We've never been keen on signing up for long-term contracts. On the Optus network, Amaysim will give you unlimited calls and 4GB of data for $40 -- less than half of what Optus charges for the same deal. You won't get 4G, but I'm not convinced a sometimes-available service is worth paying an extra $60 a month for. Optus-owned Virgin Mobile also offers substantially cheaper deals if you'd like a phone bundled in.
If you do want a contract phone plan, these deals aren't actually substantially different to what Optus offered before -- with the big caveat that the ongoing trend of cutting back on data allowances is continuing. As ever, you get more data than you would with Telstra, but less than you can score on a no-contract prepaid deal. (Optus is also revamping its SIM-only plans, and we'll examine those in a separate post in the near future.)