If you’re looking for a bargain on your phone plan, you should be looking to smaller providers, known as MVNOs. But what are they, actually?
What is an MVNO?
Short for Mobile Virtual Network Operator, MVNOs are carriers that don’t own their own mobile network. Instead, they’re powered by one of the Big Three.
There are only three mobile networks in Australia: Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone. No matter which mobile provider you pick from, you’ll end up on one of these networks.
Smaller providers like Boost, Circles.Life, and Kogan Mobile buy plans from the bigger providers at wholesale prices, and then resell the service.
Since smaller providers tend to have lower overheads, smaller marketing budgets, and don’t always stock phones, they can offer the same basic product as the big guys, but at a much lower rate.
With that in mind, we’re going to take at the smaller providers powered by each major network and their plans.
Telstra MVNO plans
There are plenty of smaller providers powered by the Telstra network, but they’re not all equal.
Boost Mobile is the only provider with access to the entire Telstra 4G network.
Every other provider, such as Belong, Woolworths Mobile, ALDI, MATE, and numobile only have access to the Telstra wholesale network.
The full Telstra network reaches 99.4% of the Australian population, whereas the wholesale network only hits 98.8% of the population.
The Telstra wholesale network still covers more of the population than the Optus network, but doesn’t have the same kind of rural and regional coverage as the full Telstra network.
Here’s how the full Telstra network and Telstra wholesale network compare:
Telstra MVNOs also don’t have the same kind of perks as Big T. You won’t get data-free Apple Music (other than on Boost), you won’t get cheap movie tickets for Event and BCC cinemas and you can’t earn Telstra Plus points.
However, Telstra MVNOs tend to be a lot cheaper than Telstra itself.
At time of writing, $25 per month will get you 20GB on Big T’s budget brand Belong, whereas $30 only gets you a 10GB prepaid SIM on Telstra — with 17GB bonus data on your first three recharges.
Telstra’s cheapest postpaid plan is $55 per month with 40GB.
Woolworths Mobile is worth calling out as one of the few MVNOs that offers phones on a plan. While it doesn’t have the same kind of range as Telstra itself, Woolies has a large selection of Samsung and OPPO devices.
MATE is another provider with a unique perk: every plan but its cheapest includes a free Tidal music streaming subscription for at least a year. That’s not a bad way of saving a bit of cash each month, and you can save a further $10 per month if you bundle with a MATE NBN plan.
Telstra has not opened up its 5G network to MVNOs yet.
Optus MVNOs plans
The Optus network is home to a whole host of small providers that regularly offer some of the best bang-for-buck deals around.
These include the likes of Circles.Life, Moose Mobile, and SpinTel. Optus subsidiaries gomo and amaysim are also powered by the network.
At time of writing, Moose Mobile is offering 20GB for $16.80 per month for your first year. Circles.Life is doing 50GB for $20 per month.
For comparison, Optus’ cheapest prepaid plan starts at $30 with 10GB (although you get 30GB of bonus data on your first three recharges).
Opting for an Optus MVNO over Optus itself means you’ll miss out on a free Optus Sport subscription (available on most postpaid plans), and discounted movie tickets for Hoyts cinemas.
While Optus has been opening up its 5G network to MVNOs, SpinTel is currently the only Optus-powered provider offering 5G plans.
There aren’t quite as many Vodafone MVNOs compared to other networks. And when it comes to value, Vodafone isn’t too far off its partners.This is because they’re all part of the TPG group.
However, iiNet and Internode are both offering deep discounts on plans where you can save 50% off your bill for the first six months.
The major feature you’ll miss out on by opting for a Vodafone MVNO instead of Vodafone itself is $5 per day roaming. While some Vodafone MVNOs have options for roaming, they’re all more expensive.
felix mobile is easily the most interesting provider on the Vodafone network. It has just one plan with unlimited data, albeit capped at speeds of 20Mbps, which is is slower than what the Vodafone 4G network is capable of.
At this stage, no Vodafone MVNOs can access the Vodafone 5G network.
Do I miss out on anything by going for a smaller provider?
Plans offered by MVNOs tend to be a lot more basic. While it’s not always the case, you’re mostly just data, talk, and text.
Many smaller providers now throw in international minutes, but this isn’t always a universal inclusion. In the same vein, you’re not going to get the same kind of perks offered by bigger players like cheap movie tickets or discounted roaming rates.
Smaller providers also tend not to sell phones. When you buy a plan from an MVNO, you need to already have your own unlocked device.
Alex Choros is Managing Editor at WhistleOut, Australia’s phone and internet comparison website.