Going ‘3G Only’: Do The Pros Outweigh The Cons?

Nowadays, almost every smartphone on the market is proudly 4G capable. The majority of mobile phone plans have followed suit – with everyone from Telstra to Vaya offering 4G network connectivity as standard. Consequently, the idea of a “3G-only” plan sounds positively archaic.

However, there are significant benefits to a 3G plan, ranging from cheap prices to generous data allowances of up to 90GB a month. If speed isn’t hugely important to you – or you live in an area with flaky 4G coverage – the plans in this roundup could be worth considering.

Mobile phone plans change all the time, but often the changes are incremental. A little bit more data here, a couple of bucks cheaper there. Perhaps the most interesting thing to happen lately is the introduction of 3G-only phone plans, which offer an intriguing trade-off.

Basically, if you’re happy with the slower speeds of 3G, you can get a lot more data. Like, a lot more data. For about $80 per month, there are several plans offering 90GB of data in return, plus the obligatory unlimited calls and SMS you’d expect in a phone plan these days.

But of course, this begs the question: can you live with 3G? For many, the answer is no way. You have a $1200 smartphone and you don’t want to gimp it by rolling its internet connection back to 2010; fair enough.

On the other hand, with 4G plans you can get 20GB – 30GB data in plans, but only if you are on a 24-month contract, and only if you’re happy to spend over $100 per month. (Or there’s Telstra’s plan with 30GB for the eye-watering sum of $195 per month.)

If you want to spend less, here are some 3G plans with 30GB for about $50.

By contrast, if you want a lot of data on 4G, you need to take a phone contract with a “Big Four” carrier which pushes up the price considerably. Here’s what you can expect to pay for an iPhone 7 with 20GB to 30GB per month.

At the moment, these 3G-only plans are all on the Optus network. In places, this is dual-carriage HSPA with speeds are up to 42Mbps, which really isn’t too bad.

We did a bit of lazy testing, switching our phones back and forth from 4G to 3G, and while you can see the difference in speed tests, it is very hard to see it in everyday tasks. Latency tends to be a bit slower, and the speeds were much slower, but web page load times and Netflix buffering were virtually identical regardless of the connection. The fact is, major web services these days are optimised for slower connections so a solid HSPA connection may be all you need.

Being a pretty new thing, we haven’t heard much feedback about this yet. Our office is pretty split on the idea, but what do you think?

Joe Hanlon is Publisher at WhistleOut, Australia’s phone and internet comparison website. He’s been writing about phones and plans for far too long.

The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans

Here are the cheapest plans available for Australia’s most popular NBN speed tier.

At Lifehacker, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


3 responses to “Going ‘3G Only’: Do The Pros Outweigh The Cons?”