How do shared mobile plans work?

Information verified correct on December 3rd, 2016

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Many contract mobile plans allow you to share their provisions, which can be a real budget boon for your family. Here’s how they work, and how to best take advantage of them.

When you sign up for a mobile contract, you’re typically presented with a set of inclusions. Usually these will cover standard national mobile calling, texts and a quantity of data, although some plans also include International calling provisions or other extra goodies. It used to be the case that your inclusions were yours alone, and if you wanted to share them with somebody else, it meant handing them your phone (or your SIM card), which was hardly ideal.

The big carriers all now offer the facility to "share" your inclusions across multiple SIMs on the same network. In the case of calls and texts this often doesn’t make a huge difference, as many of the plans that are applicable for this kind of sharing come with unlimited calls and texts anyway. You can split infinite as many times as you like, and it’s still going to be infinite.

Where shared plans can really pay off is in data sharing. If you’ve got a data quota that you never really come close to using all of, but your kids are constantly running out of data, or worse, running up large excess data bills, being able to share your otherwise unused data with them could save you big bucks. How each telco handles data sharing across mobile plans differs slightly, however.

Telstra data sharing

Telstra calls its shared mobile plans system "Family Sharing", and it works off at least one of its contract Go Mobile Plans. Any Go Mobile Plan can have up to five additional data share SIMs attached to it for a fixed $5 fee per SIM. What you’re paying for in this instance is 100MB of additional data that’s added to your existing Go Mobile contract data provisions for usage. Excess usage costs are still capped at $10 per additional GB of usage.

If you’re on a Telstra Go Mobile contract at the $135 or $195 tier excluding any handset repayments, you optionally can add a voice and data sharing SIM to your plan. The pricing is identical at $5 per SIM, but you’re limited to a single additional Voice and Data SIM on the $135 tier plan, or two on the $195 tier.

Optus data sharing

Optus’ plan sharing features are essentially built into its My Plan Plus plans at all tiers, allowing you to tie together any number of My Plan Plus plans into a single massive data pool. It doesn’t apply, however, to any Optus prepaid plans, so if you do have the kids on a cheaper prepaid plan they won’t be able to access your data pool unless you get them on contract. Contract in this case does also cover Optus’ month to month and 12 month contract plans, so that’s always an option. Given all of these plans already include unlimited standard national calls and texts, it’s a purely data-sharing only option.

Account management is handled via the Optus MyAccount portal, and all linked "shared" accounts then appear on a single bill.

Vodafone data sharing

Like Optus, Vodafone considers all of its regular Vodafone Red and Qantas Points contract plans as a single shareable pool of data. Equally, because Vodafone offers unlimited standard national calls across all plans, sharing in this context is all about pooling all of your data. Vodafone also makes it feasible to share international calling inclusions across its plans, and the $5 roaming deal that applies to the primary plan is also applied to the shared plans linked to it, albeit at that price per device per day.

Virgin Mobile data sharing

Virgin Mobile doesn’t offer a strict data sharing scheme for its postpaid mobile plans, although it does offer an incentive for signing up multiple Virgin Mobile postpaid plans. For all grouped plans, with a maximum of four, you gain an extra 1GB of data on each applicable service to use during the life of the contract.

What about other telcos?

If you’re with a Mobile Virtual Network Operator not listed here, then you’re not currently able to take advantage of data sharing services. That doesn’t automatically mean that you should look to swap carriers, however. What’s important here is making sure that even with a shared plan service that you’re still getting the best possible value for your money based on your actual or predictable usage patterns.

Everyone’s usage patterns will vary over time, but if you have an at least moderate view of the usage of your family group, that gives you a good starting point to assess relative value.

Any shared plan is only really giving you slightly more mixed access to data you’re already paying for, but it also introduces the greater possibility that as a group you’ll go over your data quota. If that’s already happening to a family member not on a shared plan then you’re probably going to benefit from shared plans, but the prospect is also there that as a group you’ll go over quota and end up spending even more on additional data packs. All of the telcos who offer shared plans do state that they’ll send you usage quota warnings before you go over quota, but all also automatically top up usage with an additional $10 per GB charge when you do.

Image: Shutterstock

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