Here at WhistleOut, we compare phone plans in Australia, the US, UK and New Zealand, which gives me plenty of time to look at some of the cool features in phone plans overseas and wish for the same great features to be part of the plans we have here in Australia.
For the most part, Australian phone plans hold up quite well in regards to price and speed. We have some of the most advanced networks in the world, and if you’ve ever moaned about how much your plan costs, you should check out pricing in the US and New Zealand. But there are some things the foreign telcos are doing much, much better.
So, here is my phone plan wish list — with tips on how the telcos can make our plans better value and easier to understand. If you like the features, I'll also point out the most similar service available in Australia right now.
As we have covered time and again on WhistleOut, excess usage charges for data on our phone plans are prohibitively expensive and unnecessary -- a fact that is plain to see when you examine how mobile carriers deal with excess usage overseas.
Image: Virgin Mobile USA 'Beyond Talk' Plans
If you are on a post-paid plan in the US, your plan will probably come with ‘Unlimited’ Data. Most of the telcos advertise this, and then put a caveat in fine-print below like ‘First 5GB at 4G speeds’. While they don’t use the word throttling (it is an ugly word) this is exactly what the US telcos are offering. 5GB of full speed data, and then unlimited 2G or 3G speeds after you've hit this mark.
Australian telcos need to follow suit on this issue. While excess usage charges might be a significant part of the bottom line for telcos, there’s no denying the fact that this is an unfair way to make money from your customers.
Optus My Plans
The next best thing to slowing data when you reach your limit, is a telco charging a fair, easy-to-calculate rate for extra data. Optus My Plans do this best in Australia, with a flat $10 per Gigabyte rate for data used over your data cap.
FREE / CHEAP INTERNATIONAL ROAMING
Aussie telcos have come a long way towards making international roaming cheaper in the past 12-months, but it’s still not really cheap, per se. For cheap, take a look at what T-Mobile customers pay when travelling overseas.
For voice calls, T-Mobile subscribers pay a flat $0.20 per-minute rate in most developed overseas destinations, including the UK, Europe and Australia.
But the best part, all T-Mobile post-paid customers get unlimited SMS and unlimited data to use during their holidays and business trips. The data is limited to 2G or 3G speeds (depending on the destination) but still — it’s completely free.
Vodafone Red Plans
For Aussie travellers, we’d still recommend you take a look at Vodafone’s excellent Red Plans. For $5 per day, Vodafone customers on these plans can use the same inclusions they have at home while they are overseas. If you pay for 5GB of data, then you can use 5GB of data in participating countries. And if you don’t use your phone, then you don’t pay the $5.
Walk into a phone shop in the US now and expect to be inundated with posters and signs advertising ‘Family Plans’ — or Framily Plans, if you’re a Sprint Mobile customer. These plans offer increasing value for customers who sign up for a single plan with multiple lines (or phones) connected to the core service. Four people will save more money than two people, and six people will save more than four, and so on.
In some instances, ‘families’ will share from a pool of data, so you might have five users on the plan and a bucket of 10GB of data to share. Other similar plans might offer each user an individual data allowance, so you can choose a data level based on what each person in the group needs.
For example, if a family of four in Australia all bought new iPhones on plans, with unlimited calls and 3GB of data each month, the average price per line would be about $100 per month, or $400 for the whole family.
If the same family lived in the US and signed up for the same iPhones on a T-Mobile Family plan — with the same unlimited calls and 3GB data — the total monthly bill would be $288. That equals a saving of $2,688 over the life of a 24-month contract.
Telstra Shared Data
Nowadays, the closest you’ll see to a family plan in Australia is Telstra’s ‘Shared Data’ inclusions. With these plans, you can connect up to 5 data-only SIMs to a main smartphone account, allowing you to share a single bucket of data across several different devices.
Small US telco Ting offers a truly unique and revolutionary mobile phone service. What makes it so special? It makes sense.
As a Ting customer, you create an account, connect as many devices to it as you like, use them and at the end of the month Ting calculates which plan you should be on. If you signed up for an XL plan, but you use the equivalent value of an XS plan, Ting will credit you the difference towards your next bill. There’s no need to request the credit, it happens auto-magically.
Ting also offers a great suite of online account management tools. You can set limits and warnings for each device attached to your account, monitor your usage, pay your bills, etc.
Yatango build-your-own plans
In Australia, Yatango is the telco with plans that most closely resemble Ting’s plan construct. Yatango customers choose how much talk, text and data they need, and can change these settings from month-to-month. But unlike Ting, Yatango will pocket the difference if you over-estimate your usage.
Still, it is awesome that you can log back in to your account and dial back your bill before the next month begins.