If you’re after a new mobile plan, you’ve got more options than just Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone. There are plenty of smaller providers powered by the Big Three networks, and in many cases, they offer better deals.
Smaller providers are typically referred to as Mobile Virtual Network Operators or MVNOs. They’re powered by the same networks as the big providers, they just don’t own them.
MVNOs buys wholesale access to the Telstra, Optus, or Vodafone network and then resell it themselves – often at a lower price. Since MVNOs traditionally have lower overheads, smaller marketing budgets, and don’t have a physical presence, you’ll often find mobile plans packing better data for dollar than what you’d get with their parent network.
Better yet, most MVNO plans are contract-free these days. As such, you’re not really taking a risk if you swap to a smaller provider. If you try out a new telco and you’re not happy, there’s nothing that forces you to stick around. This also means you can jump from provider to provider if a better deal comes around and keep saving money.
It’s also important to note that you can always keep your phone number when you change provider. Your digits are protected by law, and your current telco is obligated to relinquish your number and transfer it to your new provider whenever you switch.
Here’s a look at how MVNO plans compare to their parent provider.
Telstra vs. Telstra MVNOs
Nowhere is the difference in price between a telco and its MVNOs clearer than when it comes to Telstra. Telstra SIM-only plans start at $55 per month for 40GB. Alternatively, you can pay less than half of that and get 20GB for $25 per month on Belong, numobile, and Woolworths Mobile.
If you’re after more data, Pennytel is offering 30GB for $32.99 per month.
Optus vs. Optus MVNOs
Many of the best telco deals around come from Optus-powered providers. Take Circles.Life, for example. You’ll pay $15 per month for your first six months for 30GB, and $25 per month thereafter. This plan is contract-free, so you’re free to leave after the discount runs out. You’ll need to use the promo code BONUS30GB to get this deal.
If you want a longer discount, Moose Mobile is a great option: you can get a 25GB plan for $16.80 per month for your first year. The price goes up to $23.80 after your first 12 months are up, but they’ll easily be a better deal by that point in time.
For comparison, Optus’ SIM-only plans start at $45 per month for 20GB.
Vodafone vs. Vodafone MVNOs
Vodafone has a much smaller MVNO contingent that’s largely made up of sister companies including TPG, iiNet, felix, and Lebara. Kogan is main exception, and even then, support is managed directly by Vodafone.
iiNet has one of the best bang-for-buck deals around right now, offering 40GB for $15 per month for your first six months. This rises to $29.99 per month after your first six months, but that’s still a solid offer. If you’re an iiNet internet customer, you’ll also get a bonus 80GB on this plan.
felix is a rather interesting Vodafone MVNO that has a unique proposition: you’ll pay $35 per month for unlimited data capped to speeds of 20Mbps. That’s similar to an NBN 25 connection and still more than fast enough for most mobile activities.
Vodafone’s cheapest SIM-only plan will set you back $40 per month with 40GB.
What you miss out with an MVNO
There are naturally still reasons to consider a major provider. The most pertinent is if you’re also after a new phone. MVNOs don’t typically sell handsets, or when they do, it’s a much smaller range. Woolworths Mobile stocks Samsung and OPPO devices, but not much else, for example.
Most MVNOs don’t offer international roaming (which may not be a big deal right now, admittedly), and when they do, it’s a lot more expensive than what you’d pay on the parent network.
Lastly, MVNOs don’t get new technology as quickly. 5G is still a rarity when it comes to smaller providers. Only Optus has opened up its 5G network to MVNOs, and so far, there’s been minimal take-up.
Alex Choros is Managing Editor at WhistleOut, Australia’s phone and internet comparison website.