A strange thing has happened in the last six months, and I can’t seem to put my finger on exactly when it occurred. Mobile data, the prized possession of any hard-core smartphone user, appears to have gotten cheaper on prepaid compared to the equivalent postpaid plans.
I’m one of those snooty types that loves having all of the extra value of a postpaid plan, and I especially love that I never ‘run out of credit’ or have to suffer the indignity of ‘recharging’ my phone plan. I’ve been on an unlimited plan since Optus first came out with its ‘Timeless’ plans a couple of years ago, and I’ve never looked back – until now.
You see, while the various unlimited plans from Optus, Vodafone and Telstra all come with ‘all you can eat’ calls and text messaging, no one has really come out with unlimited data yet. There are a couple of exceptions, though. Optus’ $129 Business Timeless Advantage plan comes with unlimited data usage from your mobile phone only (which rules out tethering), while most BlackBerry plans come with unlimited email and web browsing, which includes all web use except for streaming multimedia, such as Internet radio and YouTube.
This therefore puts prepaid users in the unprecedented position of having the upper hand when it comes to mobile data, especially at the lower price points. I’ll focus on the mid-range $50 plans to prove my point (although this applies equally to the cheaper $30 plans as well).
Crunching the numbers: Telstra
Telstra’s $50 Pre-Paid Cap+ comes with 300MB of data as standard, and using the bonus credit of $50, you can get an extra 3GB on top of that per recharge. 3.3GB per $50 recharge? Not bad, Telstra, really not bad at all! Compare that to Telstra’s $49 Next G Cap Plan, which only gives you a paltry 1GB a month, along with excess usage charges of 25c per megabyte.
Moving along to Optus, a $50 recharge with its Turbo Cap Plus prepaid offer gets you 3GB of data plus unlimited access to Facebook, Twitter, eBay, FourSquare, LinkedIn and MySpace. The equivalent postpaid $49 Optus Cap gets you the same unlimited social networking access, but only 1.5GB of data, and an excess usage charge of 50c a megabyte.
Vodafone’s setup is nearly identical to Optus’. 3GB of data on its $49 Flexi Cap Recharge on prepaid, along with unlimited social networking (although eBay access isn’t included, as it is with Optus’ plans), and only half the amount of data with its postpaid $49 Vodafone Cap.
3 is the only provider sticking to the old world system of rewarding postpaid users with more data over its prepaid customers – and I wouldn’t be surprised if this model was changed in the next few weeks so it can ‘keep up with the Joneses’. While the prepaid cap gets you 500MB of data – plus can extra 250MB if you use the bonus $10 premium services credit on the classic Internet starter pack, the $49 postpaid cap gets you a more generous 1.5GB.
Should you get a contract?
The question then is, why bother with a contract at all? There are still perks to be had by signing on the dotted line for 12 or 24 months, such as a subsidised or free handset, and more credit for calls and texts. But if you tend to buy your smartphone outright anyway (which is typically the case with power users that upgrading every six months anyway), then there doesn’t seem to be much point going with a contract – especially with so many services that you can use in lieu of calls and texts over the carrier network (such as Skype, Viber, WhatsApp and Tango).
The other attraction with prepaid is that you pay for all of your data upfront, and therefore don’t have to worry about getting stung with excess usage charges if you go over your limit. When my current contract comes up for renewal, I’ll have to seriously consider whether to stick with postpaid or venture into the world of prepaid for the first time in my life!