Choosing the best mobile plan for your children involves more than just finding the cheapest deal.
Choosing a mobile phone for your kids can be tricky enough, whether you opt for a birthday gift of a brand new handset or hand them your old mobile when your contract rolls over and you qualify for a new phone yourself.
Choosing a mobile plan can be equally complex, because there’s no real one-size-fits-all solution. Much of what you should consider revolves around both your expectations and desires for the phone’s use, as much as what your child expects they'll want to do with the phone.
Figures suggest that the peak time for a child to get their first handset is during the transition from primary to secondary school, although a surprising number of primary kids are being given phones quite early on. The communication needs of a smaller child will differ quite a lot from those of older teenage children. So before you pick a plan, you should consider the following:
Vital services, or "fun" services?
For most parents, the reasons why their kids need mobiles are primarily communication-based, so they can call or text home if it’s needed for safety or logistical reasons. Ask the kids though, and while communication is part of the phone story, it’s as much likely to be communication via social media or streaming video. The costs associated with those activities can be much higher than you might think, so picking the right plan (and carefully managing rules and expectations) is vital.
Prepaid or postpaid?
Most parents opt for prepaid plans for their children for a reason; they present a hard limit on usage that simply disables service access until the next recharge period when exceeded. With many prepaid plans now including unlimited calls and texts, this doesn’t mean you lose communications, but most likely data services. However, if your child relies on those services, whether to tether a laptop for sending in homework via Google Drive, or for location services such as navigation to make their own way home or to another destination, a postpaid service might be a better fit. The easiest way to get over this hurdle is to opt for a month-to-month postpaid service. That way you minimise your exposure to excess fees, and can change plans at any time with minimal fuss, but gain the benefits of postpaid coverage.
Do you want location tracking?
It’s built into every iPhone, and many Android phones also offer services that allow you to track a "lost" phone that can also double as a personal safety tracker, allowing you to know where your kids are based on the location of their phones. Most of these services rely on data connections, however, and while the overall data usage is typically low, opting for a low data, or PAYG data plan could limit your access to such services.
Pick of the plans: Which plans are best?
As we said, there’s no absolute "best" plan that will suit every parent, but here are our choices for plans based on usage scenarios and likely ages. For the purposes of like-to-like comparison, we've stuck to prepaid plans only, keeping in mind those parents who'd like to avoid any possible bill shock scenarios from kids watching one too many videos on YouTube or Netflix.
Best plans for younger kids
Rationale: You want your child to have a mobile so they can call or text you as and when needed, and not much more. The phone can be basic, and so can the phone plan.
Both plans come with a decent allotment of mobile data for basic web browsing and are offered on a prepaid basis, ensuring that your children can't rack up exorbitant excess fees by accident. To top it off, both plans come unlimited calls and texts throughout Australia so there's no need to worry about excess call charges.
Best plans for tweens
Rationale: You still want communications as a basis, but tweens are more likely to be branching out into other smartphone activities, including social media and streaming activities that will use up at least a little data.
Boost’s ULTD plans combine unlimited standard calls and texts along with data inclusions that add bonus data on the weekends. That’s got solid appeal for tweens (and older teenagers) who can see their friends at school during the week but may burn through far more data on weekends. Catch Connect's 17GB plan, meanwhile, offers a solid chunk of data to use at any time with the benefit of a 30-day expiry compared to Boost's 28-day expiry.
Best plans for older teens
Rationale: In the older teen space data becomes much more of a priority, because they’re going to be using it more for music and video streaming, social media and activities such as Facetime or similar video calling applications. They should by this stage be more responsible with their usage, opening up postpaid possibilities as well as prepaid ones.
Kogan’s prepaid plans give your child a set data quota per month that’s comparable to postpaid plans, but they can’t break the bank by going over quota. It’s a one-off annual cost hit and you’re done, with unlimited calls and texts to keep the communication lines open. Think Mobile's plans offer a solid quantity of data at a good price, though you'll have to commit to a 12-month contract in order to get the best bang for your buck.