Telstra, Optus, or Vodafone? This is the choice many of us face when looking for a new phone plan. The trio are Australia’s biggest mobile service providers and have the widest available coverage – but they’re all very different companies.
All three have their strengths and weaknesses, which can make choosing tricky. Telstra has the largest network, for example, but is also by the far the priciest. Vodafone doesn’t quite have the same kind of regional coverage, but is excellent for anyone going overseas on the reg.
With that in mind, here’s how Australia’s three biggest mobile telcos compare:
Coverage is one of the biggest differences between our three major telcos: Telstra covers 99% of the population, Optus covers 98.5%, and Vodafone covers 96%. If you’re in a city or larger town, you shouldn’t have any problems getting service with any of the three major telcos.
Where coverage becomes more important is regional and rural areas. Telstra says its network covers more than 2.5 million square km, whereas Optus covers around 1.5 million square km. Vodafone hasn’t publicly disclosed its geographic coverage.
If you rarely venture outside of urban areas, you should get comparative coverage from all three telcos. But if you live further out or like your outback adventures, Telstra easily has the edge.
If you’re after a SIM-only plan, Optus is the cheapest choice – by a small margin. $39 per month gets you 10GB of data with Optus, while you’d pay $40 per month with Vodafone for the same allowance. Optus’ plan is contract-free, while Vodafone requires you to commit to a 12-month contract.
Telstra’s SIM-only plans start at $50 per month for 15GB, which is similar to what you’ll pay for 60GB on both Optus and Vodafone. Telstra and Optus’ plans are contract-free, but once again, Vodafone requires you to make a year-long commitment.
Plans with a phone
Our three major telcos all now sell phones the same way: you pick a core plan, and then add on your device. You’ll pay off your device over 12, 24, or 36 monthly interest-free instalments (although Telstra doesn’t offer a 12-month term). These are based on your device’s monthly price, divided by your term. If you want to leave early, you’ll do so by paying out the remaining value of your phone.
Here’s a look at how Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone plans compare when it comes to the iPhone 11, the Galaxy S20 5G, and the Pixel 4 XL.
iPhone 11 plans:
Galaxy S20 5G plans:
Pixel 4 plans:
For the most part, Optus tends to be your cheapest option when looking at any of these phones. The difference in price is especially notable with Galaxy S20 5G plans, where Optus will sell you the phone with 10GB of data for $93.09 per month. For comparison, you’re looking at a minimum of $102.45 per month on Vodafone with 7GB, or $112.45 per month on Telstra, with 15GB. In fact, Optus’ 60GB plan comes in at $103.09 per month, making it less than a dollar more expensive than Vodafone’s 7GB plan.
If you’re after a Pixel 4 plan, Vodafone is your cheapest option, however. The telco has massively discounted Google’s latest handset, with plans now starting at $61.83 per month with 7GB, or $71.83 per month with 60GB. Optus’ plans will set you back at least $82.68 per month with 10GB.
Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone all take different approaches to international roaming.
If you’re hoping to roam with Telstra, you’ll pay $10 per day for any eligible destination. This gets you 200MB of data plus unlimited talk and text. If you go over your 200MB allowance, you’ll pay a further $10 for an extra 500MB with a 31-day expiry. You’ll be able to tap into this data on any day you go over your starting roaming allowance. If you’re travelling to New Zealand, you’ll only pay $5 per day.
Optus takes a similar approach to roaming: you’ll pay $10 per day for 100MB of data for use in any “Zone 1” country
(predominantly Asia Pacific, Europe, and North America). Unlike Telstra, you can stack roaming data. If you pay for seven days of roaming, you’ll have 700MB to use over that period, rather than 100MB per day.
If you pick a pricier Optus plan, you may get a monthly roaming data inclusion. For example, Optus’ $59 per month plan includes 2GB of roaming data per month for Zone 1 countries. If you’ve got a roaming data inclusion, you won’t have to pay $10 per day.
Vodafone arguably has the most compelling offer out of any telco: for $5 per day, you can use your Australian inclusions overseas. You’re not capped to a tiny daily allowance. If you’re on Vodafone’s top plan, you’ll get 7 days of free roaming included each month.
On top of talk, text, and data, you’ll find a few extras with phone plans from the big three.
Telstra plans tend to be the most jampacked when it comes to extras. You’ll get discounted movie tickets from Event Cinemas, zero excess data charges, and live passes for AFL, AFLW, NRL, Netball, and the Hyundai A-League.
However, adding international talk and text costs $10 per month on all Telstra postpaid plans, while it’s included as a standard feature on most Vodafone and Optus plans. In addition, Telstra will charge for 5G access from the second half of this year. If you’re after 5G from Telstra and don’t want to take up one of its two most expensive plans, you’ll pay an extra $15 per month. Vodafone says it will never charge customers a premium for 5G. Optus hasn’t ruled out charging extra for 5G access but currently doesn’t.
Optus customers get free access to Optus Sports and access to the Optus Perks program, which can get you discounted tickets for Hoyts cinemas.
Vodafone’s plans are a little more bare-bones, but you’ll save up to 20% off your monthly bill if you bundle with other services. Each service after the first will get you a 5% discount on your bill, up to a maximum of 20% with five services.
Alex Choros is Managing Editor at WhistleOut, Australia’s phone and internet comparison website.