a mobile nightmre - Follow a plan to make the most
of phone bills, by Josh Robertson
(Credit: The Courier-Mail)
visiting stores, poring over pamphlets and trawling
through websites, Mark and Michelle Limb can sum
up their search for the right mobile phone plan
in two words: "baffling ordeal".
The Bardon couple, who recently returned to Australia
after half a decade living in cellular-savvy Japan,
are confronting the prospect of becoming mobile
phone users in this country.
There's a vast array of providers and packages
to choose from but few clues as to which -- if
any -- offer compelling value.
The reality behind the hype is that a lack of
competition among telcos here is limiting real
choices for consumers, says telecommunications
analyst Paul Budde.
"If you analyse the packages, they're complicated,
difficult to understand -- the small lettering
and all that sort of stuff -- the underlying business
model being that the telcos want to sell voice
and they don't want to make things cheaper,"
Mr Budde says.
"They pay a lot of lip service but in reality
the majority of people just pay 50 or 80 cents
for a mobile call and 20 or 30 cents for a fixed
call and the telcos love it."
However, Reg Robertson, spokesman for consumer
website Phonechoice, insists that "it pays
handsomely to be educated and informed".
Choosing the deal that suits you hinges most of
all on knowing what your mobile call habits are
-- how many calls, where, when and for how long.
It's the typical mobile user's burden -- depart
from your monthly standard and you'll be punished
The prepaid option at least lets customers know
exactly how much money they'll spend over a given
Pay $100 a month (and no more) and you might get
three hours and 20 minutes of local calls at 25
per minute (and no more).
The downside is the inconvenience and inflexibility,
says Mr Limb.
Sometimes going to the shop to top up credit is
the last thing on your mind; but then fail to
use all your credit in the allocated time (usually
no more than three months) and it's wasted.
Then there is the "cap", a slightly
misleading term for this kind of phone deal.
True, a plan might allow you to make up to $300
worth of calls (charged at 40 per 30 seconds)
and "cap" your bill at $49, but since
you can make far fewer calls than that and still
pay the same, a cap is better understood as a
minimum monthly charge.
Make more calls than that, the cap comes off and
you pay more.
Despite this, caps are increasingly popular, says
Mr Robertson says the market has now moved to
"a kind of third generation of caps",
with a higher included call spend at a slightly
higher call rate.
A $49 cap which used to include $230 worth of
calls at 35 per 30 seconds now offers $300 of
credit at 40 cents per 30 seconds.
Translated, that's five hours and 28 minutes of
local calls compared to six hours and 15 minutes,
or an extra 47 minutes a month.
Mr Robertson says caps have meant that call rates
"across the board have flattened".
Telstra, Optus and Vodaphone each charge 40 cents
per 30 seconds on their $49 caps but provide $250,
$280 and $300 worth of calls respectively.
On the same cap and the same rate, Dodo offers
$400 of calls -- but $120 of this must be to other
Conversely, you could lock yourself into a $249
monthly contract with iSim, worth nearly $6000
over two years, and pay 18 cents per 30 seconds
for 11-and-a-half-hours' talk time a month.
One drawback with a cap is that customers usually
won't receive an itemised bill.
It's the inflexibility that bothers Mr Limb.
"I don't want to spend $70 a month if I only
make $35 worth of calls," he says.
Mr Limb resents the idea of having to calculate
and stick to a standard month of mobile use.
"I don't know what I'm doing week to week
if I sign up for a two-year contract, I don't
know what I'll be doing in two years' time."
In the end, it's the Slimtel VIP month-to-month
plan that appeals most to Mr Limb -- a call rate
of 11 per 30 seconds, no cap, no minimum monthly
charge, no long-term contract.
Getting the most out of a mobile plan comes down
to this: you have to know your usage patterns
or mould them to fit your plan. The alternatives
are an exorbitant bill or wasted credit.