If you’re after a new mobile plan, you’ve got more options than just Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone. There’s a whole host of smaller providers powered by the big three networks, and in many cases, they're offering better deals.
What is an MVNO?
Smaller providers are also known as Mobile Virtual Network Operators or MVNOs. They’re powered by the same networks as the big providers, but they just don’t own them.
How do MVNOs work?
The MVNO buys wholesale access to Telstra, Optus, or Vodafone network and then resells this service - often at a cheaper rate. Since MVNOs tend to have lower overheads, smaller marketing budgets, and don't tend to have a physical presence, they tend to offer phone plans packing more data for dollar than what you'd get on their parent network.
Better yet, most MVNOs offer contract-free plans, so you're not taking too much of a risk if you swap. If you jump ship to an MVNO and you're not happy, there's nothing keeping you locked in. This also means you're free to hop to another provider if a better deal comes around, and what's better than saving money?
While MVNO plans tend to be a little less feature packed than what you'd get on a parent network, you'll still typically find inclusions like international calling on smaller providers.
Here’s a look at how MVNO plans compare to their parent provider.
The ACCC has dropped its latest quarterly report on real-world NBN speeds and Optus has managed to hang on to the title of top-dog NBN provider after it dethroned TPG last time around.
Telstra vs. Telstra MVNO
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 $50 per month for 15GB. Alternatively, you could pay half that and get 15GB for $25 per month on MATE. Better yet, the MATE plan also includes unlimited international calls to 15 countries, which is a feature that will cost you $10 extra per month on Telstra proper.
If you're after more data, Belong, Mate, and Woolworths Mobile will all do 40GB for $40 per month. Belong and Mate's plans are both contract free, but Woolworths will make you commit to a 12-month contract.
Optus vs. Optus MVNO
Many of the best telco deals around come from Optus-powered providers. Take for example Circles.Life's $18 per month plan with 20GB. It's not the largest data allowance around, but it's hard to beat in terms of value per money. For comparison, Optus' SIM-only plans start at $39 per month for 10GB.
To grab the deal, you'll need to sign-up before February 28 with the promo code "6MONTHS". As the coupon suggests, this discount only lasts for your first six months with Circles, after which you'll pay $28 per month. The plan is contract-free however, so you can ditch it whenever.
Moose Mobile is another excellent Optus MVNO choice when it comes to deals. $19.80 per month gets you 15GB for your first 12 months with Moose, after which your allowance drops to 5GB. As with the Circles deal, the plan is contract-free so you’re not obliged to stay.
Vodafone vs. Vodafone MVNOs
Vodafone has a much smaller MVNO contingent that's made up almost entirely of prepaid providers such as Lebara, Kogan, and TPG. When comparing like for like plans, the big difference is that Vodafone offers prepaid on a 35-day expiry, whereas its MVNOs work on a 30-day or one-month basis. That means you'll recharge 10.4 times per year with Vodafone, as opposed to 12 times per year with its prepaid MVNOs.
Vodafone prepaid is a little more expensive than what's offered by its MVNO partners, but if you sign up and opt into automatic recharge before April 21, you'll get a bonus 20GB with every recharge until September 30.
Of course, there are still reasons to consider a major provider. The most pertinent is if you're after a new phone. MVNOs don't typically sell handsets, or when they do, it's a much smaller range. For example, Woolworths Mobile stocks Samsung and OPPO devices, but not much else.
It is however worth noting that Woolies still ranges new Samsung devices like the Galaxy S20, and the prices are pretty good. For example, you’ll pay $76.58 per month for the Galaxy S20 with 20GB on a 24-month plan with Woolworths Mobile thanks to a pre-order promo. On Telstra, you’d pay $106.20 for a Galaxy S20 with 20GB.
Most MVNOs don't offer international roaming, or when they do, it's a lot more expensive than what you'd pay on the parent network. As such, an MVNO might not be a great option if you're a regular traveller, unless you're happy picking up a local SIM whenever you're overseas.
Lastly, MVNOs don’t get new technology as quickly. For example, no MVNO has access to 5G or eSIM right now. These features will eventually come to smaller providers, but there's definitely a lag between when a major provider implements functionality and when it offers it to an MVNO partner.
Alex Choros is Managing Editor at WhistleOut, Australia's phone and internet comparison website.
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