Best value Australian iPhone plans revealed!

If you’re thinking of picking up an iPhone the array of plans on offer from the all the Australian networks is fairly bewildering and complicated (Three for example need you to buy the iPhone outright before they can offer you service)! So we’ve done the hard work of ploughing through the brochures and fine print for you to work out which are the good value plans — and which are the absolute stinkers to be avoided at all costs.

For each of the carriers we’ve provided a write-up with our thoughts on what the relative pros and cons of the carrier and their plans are as well as a detailed table comparing all the plans showing you the real value that you’ll get.

Also if you’re an original iPhone 2G user or another smartphone user looking enviously at the data allowances on the iPhone plans we’ve got some good news for you too — a couple of deals from smaller virtual mobile networks with a fair bit of data bundled in. Check out our “Best plans for iPhone 2G and other smartphones” page.

[#PAGE-BREAK#Telstra iPhone 3G plans in detail#]

The only reason you should opt for a Telstra plan is if you travel or live in the country and want HSDPA coverage wherever you are. However the pricing is so extortionately high that we suspect the main people who will be buying are corporate customers who don’t mind their employer being taken to the cleaners every time they fire up Mobile Safari.

Everything about Telstra’s plans stink to high heaven. From the measly data limits (starting at 5MB!) on all the plans to the fact that the iPhone is only available on a 24-month ‘your balls are ours’ contract.

The only thing that makes Telstra’s plans vaguely appealing is that you get free access to wifi at all Telstra hotspots and considering Telstra has CBD-wide coverage of WiFi in Sydney and Melbourne that’s not an inconsiderable bonus. However it’s unlikely you’ll be able to just freely use the WiFi like you can with mobile data — probably you’ll have to log in to WiFi each time you use it with your Telstra mobile number and a password. (We’re happy to stand corrected here if Telstra has worked out a seamless login system for iPhone customers but we think it’s highly unlikely.)

The real joke is the additional data packs you need to buy with your iPhone voice plan. If you don’t select an additional data plan you’ll end up paying the ‘Pay As You Go’ data rate of $2/MB! Telstra have rejigged their data plans slightly so a $10/month data plan gets you 150MB and a $29/month plan gets you 300MB. So a reasonable Telstra plan for $60/month plus a reasonable data cap of $29/month for 300MB ends up costing you $89/month and you end up with a piddling 26 three minute calls where the same amount on Voda and Optus nets you hundreds of dollars worth of phone calls.

Effectively what Telstra has done is realised that it needs to have the iPhone so it doesn’t look insanely out of touch with the telecommunications industry but its senior execs have refused to budge an inch on pricing. What is completely insulting is that despite the fact that although the iPhone is basically a small computer Telstra is still pricing it like a mobile phone. For $109.95 you can get 3GB of mobile broadband through BigPond Wireless which really highlights how much Telstra’s iPhone plans suck with only 1GB of data for $10 more.

If you do for some reason absolutely need to go with Next G we suggest you absolutely should not choose any data plans less than $59/month regardless of the call plan you intend to use.

Otherwise steer well clear of Telstra for your iPhone 3G.

For more details click see our spreadsheet below which shows all the plans and allows you to see what various length calls would cost on each plan.

[#PAGE-BREAK#Vodafone iPhone 3G plans in detail#]

Vodafone finally came good just under the 24 hours before the launch of the iPhone 3G. But how do their plans stack up?

First off there’s been no pre-paid plan announced and if you’re looking for a shorter 12 month contract you’re also out of luck. There are also no plans less than $69 a month which will make many people think twice about even considering Vodafone.

Vodafone’s entry level plan starts at $69 for which you’ll get $310 worth of call credits which works out to about 115 three minute calls. While that sounds like a lot Optus give you $350 worth of credit for $59 per month which buys you around 127 three minute calls. In terms of data Optus gives you 500MB on the $59 plan while Vodafone only gives you 250MB.

If Vodafone had some coverage advantage perhaps it would be worth considering but Optus’ network is as good as or better than Vodafone’s.

In terms of buying the actual phone you’ll spend a total of $48 over two years buying the 8GB iPhone from Optus while Vodafone charge you $189 for the same phone so Voda is loading up the initial buy price as well.

For more details click see our spreadsheet below which shows all the plans and allows you to see what various length calls would cost on each plan.

[#PAGE-BREAK#Optus iPhone 3G plans in detail#]

Optus has clearly got the best value iPhone plans in Australia. There are a big range of capped plans starting at $19 per month and going through to a rather extraordinary $179 per month.

But Optus has done the right thing by customers — it is offering both 12 and 24 month contracts rather than only offering the longer contract to lock people in. The 12 month contract does however have significantly higher monthly repayments for the iPhone 3G itself (for example on a $49 plan over 12 months you’ll be paying another $37 a month for an 8GB iPhone 3G whereas on a 24 month contract that drops to just $7 a month.)

Optus does also offer non-capped plans but the capped plans over either a 12 or 24 month period are the best value for customers that intend to use the iPhone as their one device for both data and voice. For instance when comparing a mid level $79 capped plan to a $79 non-capped plan you’ll get an additional 150 three minute phone calls when choosing the capped plan.

However if you’re considering an iPhone 3G primarily for its browsing and email capabilities you’ll be able to get away with a cheaper ($29 $39 $49 or $59) plan as each case these plans come with a higher download cap than the equivalent capped plans (where they exist). For example on a $29 non-capped plan you get 250MB of data whereas to get that on a capped plan you’d have to spend $49.

Even so capped plans are probably better choices for most people even if you don’t plan to make many phone calls on the iPhone. The monthly cost of the iPhone 3G is relatively high on the cheaper non-capped plans (for example on a $29 non-capped plan you’ll be paying $12 a month for 24 months to get an 8GB iPhone.)

Optus prepaid plans

If you’re a prepaid user you’ll pay a hefty premium when purchasing the iPhone 3G but you’ll have the option to unlock the phone after six months use (or by paying $80 before six months has passed) and use it with your choice of carriers. Optus is also providing generous data and voice bonuses when pre-paid users recharge.

For more detail see the spreadsheet below.

[#PAGE-BREAK#Virgin Mobile iPhone 3G plans in detail#]

Optus-owned virtual telco Virgin Mobile has come to the iPhone party with guns blazing. Its big selling point is huge data caps with a reasonable amount of voice calls included to boot. There are two basic plans: one for $70 which includes 1GB data and $520 worth of calls and another plan for $100 which includes 5GB data and the same $520 worth of calls. (See our launch dayanalysis here: Virgin iPhone plans offer up to 5GB.

Just because Virgin has released these two specific iPhone data plans doesn’t mean they are the ones you can choose from.

In fact you can select any Virgin capped voice plan and add a data plan to it. If you’re a low volume user spending just $5/month gets you 50MB in data $10 gets you 300MB (this is the plan I’m on) and $15 gets you 1GB of data – more than enough for 99.9% of iPhone users.

Because Virgin piggybacks on the Optus network coverage in major cities is good but if you’re planning on hitting the bush Telstra is really the only option. Even though Optus is building out a 3G network that will have broad coverage across Australia its 900MHz frequency doesn’t work on the iPhone.

We’ve emailed Virgin to ask if unlocked and older generation iPhones can take up the special iPhone plans on a monthly basis but haven’t heard back yet.

[#PAGE-BREAK#Three iPhone 3G plans in detail#]

It would be fair to say that the fourth mobile network in Australia — 3 — is desperate. For some reason Apple is refusing to let 3 sell the iPhone which prompted the telco to lead a public petition to Apple to allow it to sell the iPhone. For whatever reason Apple isn’t budging.

3 is so desperate that it will pay you $300 to go and buy an iPhone outright from Optus and then walk down the road to the 3 store and sign up on a 3 plan. While its plans are definitely the best value money can buy for voice and data (assuming you’re in a 3 coverage zone) if you move out of the 3 zone or even hit a 3 blackspot within a coverage zone (and there are many) you’ll roam onto Telstra’s network and be stung hard for usage — $1.65 per megabyte. To us buying a phone from another provider and bringing it to them for use just sounds like too much hard work. This inconvenience might be worth it if 3 improved its off-network data roaming rates but until then our advice is to stay away. [#PAGE-BREAK#The winners: best iPhone plans#]

By the time you read this most consumers will hopefully have forgotten the frustration that came with wanting to own an iPhone on day 1.

Overall Optus offers the best value for money plans across the spectrum. It offers low-end ($19/month) plans for people who really just want to keep their existing phone and keep the iPhone in their pocket for occasional web browsing mapping and app use as well as new ‘Timeless’ plans with 2GB of data and unlimited voice calls.

However for people who want to use their iPhone often and never worry about hitting a data cap Optus-owned Virgin Mobile provides a great option in its $100 deal with 5GB data included. That deal would also be perfect for use with the Nullriver NetShare app which allows you to use your iPhone as a 3G modem for your laptop. Currently however NetShare is not available on the iTunes Store Australia.

3 is also offering iPhone plans with the caveat that you need to buy an iPhone from another telco get it unlocked and then sign up with them for 24 months. For all that trouble they’ll “>give you $300 back and provide you with very generous plans (voice and data). But step out of their coverage zone and you’ll be up for lots of money in roaming fees.

The other bit of advice we’ve got is start on a cheaper plan then you think (but one that covers your call/sms requirements) and move up if you see yourself using more data. Optus is offering unlimited data till the end of August 2008 for all iPhone 3G users – so have a look at what you’ve actually used at the end of the month and choose a plan accordingly. Of course don’t go too low with your plan or you’ll end up paying a high monthly repayment for the iPhone itself.

All plans from each telco offer various other bonuses which may weigh on your decision to stick with a particular carrier. For instance Vodafone offers one free monthly bonus on its personal cap plans. Options like unlimited calls to your Vodafone BestMate 100 standard free TXT 100 free Vodafone to Vodafone calls. Optus also offers similar bonuses like Yes Time which provides free 20 minute phone calls to other Optus mobiles after 8pm and free phone calls to another Optus mobile on the same account for 5 minutes 24 hours a day. Virgin lets you call other Virgin mobile users free all the time — a great option if various family members want to get an iPhone. These aspects of the plan may help you determine which plan is best for you.

And remember all comparisons here are for 24 month contracts – and so far only Optus offers the iPhone 3G on a 12 month – certainly something to consider considering Apple will most likely offer an updated iPhone within a year.

Whichever plan you go on just remember that telcos are basically mean – once they’ve got you on a contract they’ll make you bleed if you exceed their terms – like going over your data or voice cap. That’s why getting it right at the start is critical. Good luck!

Best value Australian iPhone plan overall

And the winner is… the Optus $59 iPhone Cap. It gives you $350 worth of calls (80c per minute with 35c flagfall) 500MB of data usage and you can get an iPhone for just $2 a month for 24 months (a total handset payment of only $48).

For heavy iPhone internet users

Virgin Mobile $100 iPhone capped plan — 5GB of usage and $520 worth of calls provides a generous calling allowance as well as a ‘practically unlimited’ amount of data.[#PAGE-BREAK#Best plans for iPhone 2G and other smartphones#]

This section of the article by Dan Warne

Got a smartphone or a first-gen iPhone and wish you could get a iPhone 3G-like plan for it? A couple of the smaller ‘virtual’ mobile networks are coming to your rescue.

One of the undeniably sexy things about the iPhone is that all the telcos are vying to offer the best value they can — and that means large amounts of data usage at rates that have never been seen on mobiles before.

For example on a $79 plan Optus offers iPhone users $550 worth of calls and 700MB of data. Sure the data amount is small compared to what US-based iPhone users get (“unlimited”) — but then the best deal Optus offers for other smartphones is $79 for $550 worth of calls and no data at all.

Usually Optus charges $4.95 for 10MB $9.95 for 30MB or $14.95 for 200MB usage per month on any phone except the iPhone.

However several telcos offer a better deal for phone users who don’t want to be ripped off on the data side of things.

Virgin Mobile’s data bolt-ons are refreshingly affordable and can actually offer iPhone-like value to users of any phone. Virgin charges $5 for 50MB $10 for 300MB or $15 for 1GB. When you consider that to get 1GB on Optus with a regular smartphone you’d have to sign on to a $149 per month plan Virgin’s $15-for-1GB fee on top of any of their bring-your-own-phone plans is great. It only works on post-paid (monthly billed) plans for now — but Virgin says prepaid data bolt ons are not far away.

Admittedly Virgin’s capped plans are a bit average in their voice calling value — calls are charged at 80c per minute with a 40c connection fee and a $45 plan only offers $250 worth of these rather expensive calls. However if like many tech enthusiasts you use the net on your phone a lot and try to keep your calling down the plans are pretty good.

Boost Mobile has also launched a pre-paid plan for users who want a decent amount of data on their handsets.

A $30 recharge on the Boost Mobile Super Cap gives “over $150 of value” for talk and text plus 50MB of data to use surfing the web from your handset.

For heavier usage a $70 recharge gets you 300MB of data and $580 worth of calls.

Neither of the plans offer a huge amount of data but at least they are prepaid so you can’t be stung with massive excess usage rates. You can roll over call and data credits if you recharge within 30 days.