Prepaid mobile operators generally offer the best-value plans, but their reliance on low-margin customers means they're more likely to disappear: check the recent closures of Red Bull Mobile and Savvytel and looming threats for Kogan and ALDI for starters. Here's what to do if that happens.
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If you want to pay $40 (or less) a month for unrestricted calls, then a prepaid mobile operator is going to be your only choice. It's what I do myself -- better value and more flexible than the contract alternatives. While an MVNO may not offer access to full-blown 4G speeds, you have to ask yourself: is it worth paying twice as much just for that, especially since calls will also be more expensive?
Essentially, every company operating in this space works as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), which means that they buy network access from one of the main network operators (Optus, Telstra or Vodafone) and then sell their own plans utilising it. We've covered how that works in more detail in our Lifehacker 101 guide to MVNOs.
It's a price-sensitive market with only three active network owners, so it's not surprising that competition is fierce and casualties are frequent. This year, we've already seen Crazy John's and Red Bull Mobile shut down, and news emerged this week that Savvytel is going the same way. We've also seen potential problems for Kogan Mobile and ALDI, both of whom are reliant on wholesale provider ispONE, which is locked in a legal dispute with Telstra.
That's not to say that operating as an MVNO is automatically a recipe for disaster. There are still plenty of choices, including Amaysim, Boost (actually owned by Telstra), Just Mobile, Lebara, Live Connected, PennyTel, Vaya, and Virgin (actually owned by Optus).
There's also an important point that's worth reiterating: one of the attractions of a prepaid deal is that you can easily get out if it no longer suits you. That remains true even if the reason it no longer suits you is because it is shutting down.
Essentially, all you have to do is port your number to another provider. We'd recommend a four-stage approach:
- Shop around and choose a new provider. We've mentioned many of the main players above. If you've been happy with the network coverage, stick with a provider on the same system. (ALDI, Boost and Kogan use Telstra; Just Mobile and Lebara use Vodafone; everyone else uses Optus.)
- Send a text message to any significant contacts explaining that you're porting your number, which might mean you're not as responsive for a couple of days. While porting can happen very quickly, there are cases where delays apply. This is especially appealing if your plan offers unlimited free texts -- take advantage before you leave.
- Sign up with your new provider (either online or in store) and choose the option to port your existing number. Pro tip: do this on a Monday or a Tuesday rather than at the weekend. Telco activation lines are often swamped by weekend sales, and choosing the beginning of the week will generally get you a faster result.
- You can typically keep using your existing SIM from your old provider until the new service is activated. Once that happens, swap SIMs, restart your phone and you're good to go.
While this is a fiddly enough procedure that you wouldn't want to do it every other month, it's nowhere near as onerous as it used to be, and you won't lose your number.