Jun 18

Prepaid Mobile Phones in Australia

Category: australia,technology

It strikes me as annoying that some how prepaid phone users get treated as second class citizens. They historically don’t have access to half of the features that are offered to those on plans just because you own your phone outright. In addition Australia has locking of phone devices to networks as well and then have the hide to charge you $30 whilst someone presses a few buttons for a minute and hands you your phone back. This situation has thankfully steadily improved over the years and with the introduction of Vodafone in Australia it seems things are slowly getting better but not quite there.

As a phone user I’d started as a Telstra “communic8” user for my first phone. This worked out well as at the time Telstra had this ‘feature’ where you could link it to another phone that was on a plan (my dad’s) and it could give you a nominated amount of money a month ($10) and one months ‘access’ for this token amount. On top of this you were permitted something like three calls per day for around 3 minutes to that same number for free. Rather handy that you didn’t need credit to call home. Other useful things Telstra had (and might still have) is that your access to the network and credit expiry accrued each time you recharged up to about two years. I know this because I managed to get just that amount of access accrued on my Telstra phone before I switched.

All in all I was happy with Telstra as they have arguably the best coverage in Australia for mobile phones. They aren’t the cheapest mind you but all in all I was happy since most of the premium crap that required a plan didn’t interest me and my phone really didn’t support those features (an ancient Motorolla, a Nokia ‘potato phone’ 3315 and a Nokia 6310i that I think my nan has). It turns out with Joomla! I end up overseas periodically and the first time this happened (a trip to Thailand in 2005), it really hurt not having any phone connectivity.

So at this point I went to Telstra and asked them what their international roaming options where for prepaid. The answer was simple: upgrade to a plan. I happen to like being prepaid and interestingly for the fact that I’ve already given them the money (e.g. they’re already earning interest on it before I’ve used it in addition to being more expensive) I still don’t get service. I’m personally not the sort of person who likes borrowing money if I can avoid it, so that means anything credit related (e.g. credit card, mobile phone) gets avoided where possible. This turns out remarkably easy, prepaid telephone only gives you what you pay for and a VISA debit card gives you access to your own money. Interestingly, and perhaps this is why providers hate prepaid, it is possible to continue to ‘rollover’ your credit from period to period by renewing even if it is the smallest amount. This means that you never lose what you pay for where as regular plans are a pay for it if you use it and pay more if you use too much (Optus was half decent where they had a ‘rollover’ for a few months scheme, not sure if it still runs but it exemplifies the fact you by design pay for what you aren’t going to use as opposed to prepaid which is pay for what you use).

So I decided at that point to stop being a happy Telstra customer and switch. Vodafone offered on of the best deals with their cap plan (this is about a month before their major advertising promotion on it) and to be honest it was really attractive – however the cap plans didn’t have international roaming. So they had some nice phones and all was good cost wise for prepaid (which did have international roaming) however Vodafone’s coverage for Toowoomba is below substandard. Given that my mum lives a good 20 minutes drive out of town that would mean I probably wouldn’t get coverage there. Here is where Optus come in with second rate costing but a far more advanced phone network. Optus also offered international roaming on their prepaid and the rates were a bit more (roaming always is a rip off) however you have a cost to pay for these things. They offered good coverage over places I’m likely to go to so that was good. Optus being owned by Singtel also meant that Singapore was incredibly cheap, Asia was relatively cheap and everywhere else was expensive (relative to international roaming costs). It actually reminds me of when I came back from Malaysia that it was cheaper to roam on my prepaid Malaysian SIM card than to go back to Telstra (yes, it was cheaper for me to SMS from a phone roaming from Malaysia to Australian networks than it was for me on Australian to even the same carrier) – and this is back in 2004.

So I’ve been on Optus and travelled around the world roaming quite happily. It costs an arm and a leg however I’m happy with that and expect it. I thought about my last trip overseas which costed a fair amount of money, much more than I normally spend in a month (and this is over a week) and wonder where the wisdom in not giving me the ability to spend money is. I mean really, when I want to spend money with you make it easy! A while after I switched to Optus I got a new Nokia N80 (noticing a trend here) and I’ve had that for a while now and I’m quite happy with it, however as a slide phone the design annoys me no end. Last year I ended up getting an iPhone as well and instead of converting my existing phone across I decided to put it on its own SIM card and run it through the TurboCap. This means I have two phones to feed, one that rotates on a two month basis (the Nokia) and another that requires a refresh every month. Compared to being able to let my credit lay around for nearly two years unmolested by the carrier (amazingly Telstra is on top for once) having to renew every month or lose it sounds strikingly like a plan where you decide how much you pay each month instead of being fixed into a specific dollar amount by the carrier. But I digress yet again and now with iPhone OS 3.0 tethering for the iPhone (that I already had with my N80) is now available. Of course I need to get Optus to enable it on my account, but again we’re back to being provided with a service and well I’m on prepaid. Some how Optus manage to limit tethering to just plan providers and you have to pay a further $10 for the privilege of using your own data in a different way. So being on a prepaid phone I don’t have access to the service.

As this is my second phone I’m half tempted to switch to another carrier because I have that freedom. I keep my Nokia because a) I don’t care about it as much now (I originally bought it in Singapore in a rather rapid one hour transit – one end of the airport to the other with this shop in between and some local cash acquisition; got every where I needed to go) and b) since a I can happily take it overseas, leave my iPhone at home and not worry about losing it (which would hurt more losing my Nokia; if I lost my Nokia I’d be tempted to get an Android phone – or maybe a Palm Pre to replace my existing Zire 31 that still lives on for the last 5 years now).

It would just be nice to be treated like a real customer. One of my other prepaid gripes is that they don’t have bills that you can easily review to see how much it really costs you but such is life.

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