Telstra, Optus, or Vodafone is the decision many make when choosing a new phone plan. The three are Australia’s biggest mobile providers, but they’re all very different.
All three have their strengths and weaknesses, which can make choosing tricky. Telstra has the largest network but is also by the far the priciest. Vodafone doesn’t quite have the same kind of regional coverage but is a lot cheaper.
With that in mind, here’s how Australia’s three biggest mobile telcos compare.
Coverage is a key difference between the 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.
Of course, population isn’t necessarily the best way to judge network coverage, given the density of cities. It doesn’t really consider regional and rural areas. However, Telstra says its network covers more than 2.5 million square km, whereas Optus covers around 1.5 million square km. Vodafone hasn’t disclosed its geographic coverage.
If you normally stick to urban areas, you shouldn’t have any issue with coverage from any all three networks. If you live further out or are into outback adventures, Telstra has the edge.
You can use this interactive map below to compare coverage:
If you’re after a SIM-only plan, Vodafone comes out on top thanks to a promotional discount. You’ll get 50GB for $35 per month for your first year with the telco. You’ll pay $45 per month thereafter, but the plan is contract-free so you can leave whenever.
Optus’ SIM-only plans start at $39 per month with 10GB, but an extra $10 per month takes your allowance to 60GB.
Telstra is unsurprisingly the priciest option, with a 40GB plan billed at $55 per month.
Plans with a phone
The 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 no longer offers a 36-month term, having swapped it for 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, iPhone SE, and Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G:
iPhone 11 plans:
Galaxy S20 5G plans:
iPhone SE plans:
Galaxy Note 20 Ultra 5G plans:
As it stands, Vodafone tends to be the cheapest option for buying a phone on a plan right now. In some instances, this may just be by a dollar or two. For example, a Note 20 Ultra 5G with 10GB will set you back $119.54 per month on Vodafone, versus $122.28 per month on Optus. In others, the difference is more significant. An iPhone 64GB is about $5 per month cheaper on Vodafone when compared to Optus, or alternatively, you can pay roughly the same price and get five times the data.
Optus can still be cheaper sometimes. Right now, you’ll save $1 per month on an Optus iPhone 11 plan compared to a Vodafone iPhone 11.
Unsurprisingly, Telstra is consistently the most expensive option, but you do get a higher starting data allowance than what Vodafone and Optus offer.
We might not be going overseas any time soon, but it’s still worth understanding the difference between how Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone treat international roaming.
When you can roam with Telstra again, 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 exceed your 200MB. If you’re travelling to New Zealand – which seems a little more likely at this stage – you’ll only pay $5 per day.
Optus takes a similar approach to roaming: you’ll pay $10 per day for 1GB of data for use in any “Zone 1” country (predominantly Asia Pacific, Europe, and North America). If you exceed 1GB, another $10 1GB top-up will be applied to your account, and the 24-hour timer will restart.
More expensive Optus plans include a monthly roaming data inclusion. For example, Optus’ $59 per month plan has 2GB of roaming data per month for Zone 1 countries. This will save you from paying the standard $10 per day charge (unless you go over).
Vodafone still has the best roaming offer out of any telco: for $5 per day, you can use your Australian inclusions overseas. You’re not stuck with trying to manage just 200MB per day.
On top of talk, text, and data, plans from the big three all include a couple of extras.
Telstra plans tend to be the best when it comes to perks. You’ll get discounted movie tickets from Event Cinemas, zero excess data charges, data-free Apple Music, and live passes for streaming AFL, AFLW, NRL, Netball, and the Hyundai A-League.
You’ll need to join Telstra Plus to get some of these offers. Joining Telstra Plus also earns 10 points for every dollar you spend on your monthly bill as part of a Frequent Flyer style rewards scheme. You can spend these points on selected gadgets or use the points discounts on devices. Telstra Plus is free to join.
Telstra is currently also giving away a three-month free Binge subscription alongside its phone plans. Joining Telstra Plus extends this by a further three months, giving you six months of free Binge in total.
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, 5G is included as a standard feature on all Optus and Vodafone postpaid mobile plans, but Telstra’s entry-level $55 plan only gets 4G connectivity. If you want 5G on Telstra, you’ll need to pay at least $65 per month. While Optus and Vodafone haven’t restricted 5G to certain plan tiers, neither telco has ruled out charging a premium in the future.
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 simpler but are also free from excess data fees. In addition, you can save up to 20% off your monthly bill if you bundle your plan 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.
Select Vodafone plans also include a 12-month subscription to Amazon Prime, valued at $59.
Alex Choros is Managing Editor at WhistleOut, Australia’s phone and internet comparison website.