It’s no secret that mobile phone plans in Australia can be pretty confusing when you get down to the real basics of a) what you’re paying for and b) how much bang you get for your buck. $47 per month for $450 value plus a new iPhone 5 might sound like a great deal at the outset, but that “450 value” can vary quite a bit in the real world when the charges start to roll in.
The launch of the iPhone 5 means that a huge number of Australians are about to either renew old contracts, upgrade contracts or switch providers in order to find a better iPhone plan. As such, those Australians will hopefully be asking themselves and their service representatives some questions.
How much of that value is being used up by a standard 2 minute call within Australia? How much data will you need and how will you know when you’re approaching your limit? These are important areas to educate one’s self on before leaping head-first in to a new 12 or 24 month iPhone 5 contract that may or may not suit your needs appropriately.
The Revised TCP Code
After the release of the last major Apple product, the ‘new’ 3rd generation iPad, Apple was fined $2.25 million by the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission after Apple’s claims that the iPad was ‘4G compatible’ were proved to be misleading - the new iPad’s 4G capabilities were only compatible with spectrums not available in Australia, but Apple failed to disclose this in its initial advertising.
The good news is that dubious advertising ploys such as this may be a thing of the past. Over the last few years new legislation has taken what was once often referred to as the Australian telecommunications “Confusopoly” and tightened up regulations in regards to how easily accessed and understood information regarding mobile phone plans and contracts must be. The ACMA has revised its Telecommunications Consumer Protections Code (TCP) and while not all of the changes will occur immediately, anyone entering into a new iPhone 5 plan will be affected by the amendments over the term of their contract.
As such telcos are now required to display simplified information with regards to flagfalls, the cost of a standard call, the cost of a standard SMS and the price of one megabyte (MB) of data for each plan. The TCP Code also requires that all information regarding the billing of calls, data and text must be both easy to obtain and simple to understand.
This information must be available online and in-store and include:
- The cost of making a Standard National Mobile Call, including flagfall where applicable, for a call lasting 2 minutes.
- The maximum number of Standard National Mobile Calls that a consumer may make within the Included Value Plan. This number is based on each call lasting 2 minutes and assumes that a customer will not detract from the value of the plan by using other services, such as text, that may also affect the usage cap.
- The cost of using one megabyte (MB) of data within Australia
- The cost of sending one SMS within Australia
- The minimum monthly charge payable under the offer (where calculable)
- The maximum monthly charge payable (where calculable). This is usually not included, as it is not often calculable
- The maximum charge payable for early termination of the offer
- Warnings regarding roaming costs
- Information regarding handling an internal dispute
- Contact details for the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman (TIO) to be used only once a provider has failed to handle a complaint within a reasonable amount of time.
Terms previously favoured in advertising campaigns – unlimited, free, cap, no exceptions, no exclusions, etc. – have been banned outright, unless the offer advertised is genuinely unlimited, free, etc.
As you can see, with a bit of online research it is now much easier than it once was to avoid bill shock. Much of the information regarding how certain services affect your cap is available for consumers to access, and it's important that customers take advantage of the information and newly introduced spend management assistance provided.
With the increased level of clarity in advertising and plan information, we really can’t stress enough how important it is to shop around and compare before you sign your contract. Whatever plan appears cheapest on paper may not necessarily be cheapest for you in reality. The inclusion of Critical Information Summaries will hopefully make it easier to understand exactly what you’re signing, but it still pays to shop around and compare – our iPhone plan comparisons are available now.
Avoiding Bill Shock on 4G
With the release of 4G in Australia and now the iPhone 5, an already immensely popular 4G device, making sure consumers understand their data plans is more important than ever. 4G LTE is an extremely fast form of wireless broadband that, in some areas, can out-pace fixed ADSL2+ connections in terms of download speed. As such many customers may find themselves using data at a higher rate than ever before, without accounting for this new bandwidth-heavy usage when deciding which iPhone plan to go with.
It's crucial to remember that 4G speeds will enable users to go through data at a rate much quicker than they have been able to previously. Because of this, it will be only too easy for consumers to unknowingly exceed their monthly data allowance (especially for those of you on lower tier plans), and be hit with serious fees for excess usage. We can't stress enough how important it is to pick a plan that takes into account how much data you'll realistically use, take advantage of any data add-ons your provider may offer, and keep track of your usage, either online or through mobile usage trackers as listed below.
The easiest way to avoid bill shock on any mobile plan is to use your provider’s plan usage tracker. All providers within Australia are now required to provide this service in one form or another, either through their website or as smartphone apps.
A usage tracker allows users to view how much of their monthly cap they have used compared to how much time is left before the next month ticks over. To find your usage tracker, type in the name of your provider and the term “usage tracker”. Alternatively we have included the links to the trackers of some of the more major service providers below.
Many trackers also have option of automated alerts when a certain percentage of SMS, calls, data or total value of a monthly limit has been reached. This information is usually received by the user via SMS or via a call from an automated voice system. This message can either offer detailed information as to what parts of your plan are nearing their maximum usage, or simply direct you to check your personal usage tracker and find out yourself. The warnings must be delivered by the provider to the customer within 48 hours of the outlined percentages being reached. The percentages in question are 50%, 85% and 100% of the total available usage.
These automated alerts will be mandatory for all major providers from September 2013 onwards, but Optus has already phased them in a year ahead of schedule and it's likely other telcos will follow suit.
A word of caution: usage trackers are not up-to-the-second accurate. Trackers can be up to and over 24, or even 48 hours behind, meaning it's possible to go over your monthly limit and not be informed until the next day. Providers aren't required to cut off or restrict your access to voice or data, even after you've surpassed your plan inclusions, so it's important for consumers to be proactive and monitor their usage if they don't want to incur excess charges. Be sure to take this time delay in to consideration and allow for a certain amount of lee-way.
If you'd like to learn more about mobile data usage check out our mobile data usage guide, where we discuss what kind of online activity can be dangerous to your monthly data allowance as well as those that are less-hazardous.
4G LTE Plans: A Basic introduction
Currently (as at September 2012) Australia’s largest 4G network is owned and operated by Telstra, with Optus in second place. Optus will also be supplying Virgin Mobile with 4G LTE connectivity.
Vodafone is set to launch its 4G network in 2013 and, in the meantime, has recently launched its 3G+ network. 3G+ boasts speeds of up to double regular 3G HSPA+ (the technology used by Telstra in its NextG network and Vodafone on its 850MHz network) and is supported by the iPhone 5, but is still not as fast as 4G in areas where 4G is supported.
It’s also important to note that not all regions in Australia have access to 4G LTE connectivity yet, nor do all providers have 4G LTE networks (more on this below).
4G LTE Mobile Phone Plans
The improved speeds of 4G LTE as a wireless broadband medium will almost definitely mean an increase in mobile broadband data usage. Basically now that the internet on smartphones will be faster people will be more likely to a) use it more often and b) utilise more bandwidth-intensive options like YouTube or WiFi tethering.
As such it’s important to note what will and will not count towards your data cap. Where some services, like YouTube, were once not counted towards monthly data usage on many plans, they now most certainly are. This can lead to horrible bill shock, as the price per MB of going over a data limit can be hefty.
Another important point to consider: some of the plans released by providers offer unlimited access to social networking through Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, LinkedIn etc. either as part of the plan inclusions or through data add-on packs. This usually includes accessing social media sites both through your phone’s browser and through the official mobile applications for each site.
However, a lot of carriers will state in their fine print that any third party content pulled in by apps, or external links accessed through the official sites will not be included in the unlimited allowance and charges will apply. With some carriers, the separate 'Facebook Messenger' app may not be included in your unlimited social networking (although chatting within the official Facebook app is unlimited) – this may vary between providers, so double check the fine print.
While there is currently no charge to tether your smartphone, some of the unlimited social networking may not include access to social media sites through tethered devices and using your phone as a WiFi hotspot, so you'll need to check this with your provider as well.
Overall, it’s a lot easier to try to find a plan that fits how you use your phone, rather than adapt your phone use to your plan - with the introduction of 4G, you may find it pays off to add a data pack or upgrade to a more inclusive plan.
4G LTE Speeds in Australia
4G LTE is the next phase in wireless broadband technology. In major metro areas speeds in excess of 50Mbps down have been recorded, with an estimated maximum speed of around 100Mbps. To put this in to perspective, the maximum speed from an ADSL2+ connection (the most common high-speed broadband for households in Australia) is approximately 24Mbps, with most users getting around 16Mbps or lower.
50Mbps will not be the norm for 4G users; these numbers were recorded back at the beginning of the Telstra 4G network and, more recently, on the new Optus network. As more 4G users start cluttering up the airways with 4G demand data transfer speeds will slow.
Still, users should be able to expect speeds comparable with fixed-line ADSL2+ broadband on their iPhone 5s and other 4G capable mobile devices, assuming that the new 4G networks can handle the sudden and massive influx of 4G-capable iPhone 5s.
4G Connectivity and Availability
Before deciding on a provider, make sure you check out any 4G coverage maps that are available. These should be easy to find by typing in the name of the provider and “4G coverage maps” in to a search engine.
For the sake of ease we have also included links to the coverage maps of some major providers below:
Telstra 4G coverage: The “Coverage search” and “State coverage maps” links will likely be the most useful to the average consumer. At the very least checking both of these is vital for everyone. Users should make sure they note the key at the bottom of the coverage map so that they can identify 4G areas in contrast to 3G and NextG areas.
Optus 4G coverage: Users should ensure that they check the “4G” option at the bottom of the map. It is also important to note that current 4G coverage and future 4G coverage are different shades and should not be confused with one-another.
Virgin 4G coverage: This is very similar to the Optus map. Check 4G at the bottom of the map and make sure to note the difference between future 4G coverage and current 4G coverage.
Vodafone 3G+ coverage: As previously mentioned, Vodafone will not have 4G until 2013. 3G+ is faster than traditional 3G, but does not offer the same speeds as 4G in areas where 4G is supported. For this map be sure to click on the “Data Coverage” tab. Pay attention to the key below the map when identifying 3G+ areas.
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