Buying on contract is the most common way to acquire a new phone, but not all contract plans are created equal. Our contract changeover series continues as we round up and compare all the consumer contract phone plans currently on offer in Australia.
Scales picture from Shutterstock
Whichever carrier you choose, contract plans work in the same basic way: you sign up to a contract (usually for 24 months), and in return receive a handset. You'll own the handset outright at the end of the contract (but not before; if you try and leave early, you'll normally have to pay the contract out). You'll often pay a monthly handset fee as well, especially if the monthly plan fee is below $60. We haven't included any specific handset charges in the table below, since these vary depending on your preferred phone model. It's important to factor these in, especially on cheaper plans.
The most expensive plans will often include 'unlimited' calls and data, though this is invariably subject to a "fair usage" clause. While unlimited SMS options are common even on cheaper plans, unlimited data is not a feature on any contract phone plan we're aware of in Australia.
In the table below, we've listed the main contract plans on offer from each of Australia's main carriers (Telstra, Optus, Vodafone) as well as Live Connected and Virgin Mobile. Notes on each provider follow the table.
We haven't included providers who only offer pay-as-you-go deals or month-to-month contract options from the major providers. If you've purchased a phone outright, those options will usually make more sense (that's a separate story to be told another time).
For each carrier, we've listed the per-month charge; the minimum total cost over 24 months; the amount of included data, and excess data charges if you exceed that limit; the amount of included call credit; costs for calls and texts to Australian numbers; flagfall charges; how much a 2-minute call costs; and how many of those 2-minute calls you could make.
Vodafone offers 12-month deals, as does Optus under some circumstances, but the handset charges are so high that the total cost is often similar to signing up for a 24-month deal but without the benefit of that extra year's actual call charges. As such, we don't generally recommend them and haven't included them in the table.
The cost of the plan (and the associated handset charge) won't be the only factor you'll consider when acquiring a new phone. Some models (or colours) are only offered through particular carriers. Network availability can also be a major consideration; we always recommend borrowing a friend or relative's phone and checking reception in your home and office before signing up. Every network has coverage gaps.
You can sort and filter the table below by clicking on the column headers (so you can sort everything by price, or pick out plans with a certain amount of data.) You can maximise the table by clicking in the bottom right corner.
iiNet uses Optus' network. You can't sign up for a phone unless you also have an iiNet broadband service. (The same deal is available through iiNet subsidiaries such as Internode and Westnet with the same restriction.) While the plans may appear relatively cheap, its handset charges are typically higher than other carriers, so the difference won't necessarily be as dramatic once you add up the total cost. Its plans include 150GB for 'social networking' (though this requires you to use the browser version of social networking sites rather than apps).
Live Connected uses the Optus network. One important restriction: right now, it only sells phones in Sydney. It has an unusual 'slider' option where you can temporarily jump up to the next highest plan for a single month to avoid bill shock.
The only difference between Optus' $30 and $35 plans is unlimited text on the latter. Its call rates are the cheapest of any provider listed here. It offers 4G in capital cities but not (as yet) in regional areas. Optus customers can also earn Qantas Frequent Flyer points on their expenditure.
You'll definitely pay more with Telstra; its cheapest contract plan is $60 a month. Many people are happy to pay that for its broader regional coverage and market-leading 4G coverage, but in urban areas the difference may not be worth it.
Virgin Mobile uses Optus' network, including its 4G network (and is in fact owned outright by Optus, though it doesn't go out of its way to publicise that fact). While Optus has cheaper call rates, Virgin has more generous data inclusions and a cheaper unlimited plan.
Vodafone has a reputation for bad coverage that two years of network expansion hasn't done much to quash. Its 4G network is rolling out this year. On its $40 and $50 plans, you can choose between infinite texts or infinite free calls to other Vodafone customers.
Those are the standard contract deals, but that doesn't mean you can't score some extras. Tomorrow, we'll look at strategies to score additional perks from your provider.