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Telstra vs Optus vs Vodafone: What’s the difference?

Before you choose a mobile plan, it's worth knowing the difference between the three major Australian networks.

Updated

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What you need to know

  • All Australian mobile plans operate on either the Telstra, Optus or Vodafone networks.
  • Telstra's network has the greatest coverage, but it's also typically the most expensive.
  • Most smaller and cheaper telcos operate on the Optus network.

No matter which of the dozens of different mobile carriers you sign up to, your phone is only ever going to connect to one of three networks. The Telstra, Optus and Vodafone networks are the only back-end choices you have for mobile service, and all providers rely on one of the three.

Regardless of which carrier you go with, understanding the differences between each of these three networks is a crucial part of knowing what you can expect from your provider. We've broken down different categories to look at when comparing the three, and put forward who we think comes out on top.

Of course, the best provider for you will depend entirely on your own personal circumstances and what you're looking for. If you're looking for a specific feature out of your mobile provider, why not start with one of the following links?

Telstra vs Optus vs Vodafone: Coverage

Australia's a vast continent, so when telecommunications companies claim their network reaches 99%+ of Australia, they're referring to the percentage of inhabitants rather than landmass. Huge swathes of Australia are "dark" as far as mobile coverage goes, meaning that you won't get a signal no matter what carrier you may be with.

While Optus, Telstra, and Vodafone are working on improving reception in many of these poorly covered areas as part of the federal government's mobile blackspot program, let's take a look at what each carrier's coverage looks like at the moment.

Telstra

Telstra has the largest network in Australia, servicing 99.5% of Australians right across the country. We've included an overview of Telstra's coverage map below, with 3G areas shown in dark blue, 4G in green and 5G areas in purple. For a closer look, check out the interactive map here.

Telstra Coverage Map

Image: Telstra

As far as regional coverage goes, Telstra is currently the best performing with Optus close behind. Both have an extensive presence in regional areas as well as their own mobile satellites for people outside of good coverage zones. Their 4GX and 4G Plus services promise to extend coverage even further for regional inhabitants.

Telstra also currently has the most established 5G network, offering some 5G trials to customers with compatible devices in serviced metro areas.

Telstra is also noteworthy in that its Telstra Air service provides functional Wi-Fi to customers right across the country with 1 million hotspots nationally.

Optus

Optus covers around 98.5% of the Australian population with 3G and 4G, and has the second largest network of the three. Optus has begun its 5G network rollout, which is available to some customers in the metro areas it covers. It's even started offering 5G home wireless broadband, which is a unique product for Optus as all other competitors are currently using the 4G network.

Optus Coverage Map

Image: Optus

The above map shows the 3G and 4G areas that Optus covers around the country. To find out more details on where the Optus network is available, check out its map in full here.

Vodafone

Vodafone's network services 22 million Australians with its 4G network. It was the last of the three to roll out its 5G network around the country. We weren't able to access a full country coverage map from Vodafone, so we've shown the main areas around NSW, VIC, QLD and WA below. You can input your address in its coverage map to see if Vodafone services your area.

Vodafone coverage map

Image: Vodafone

While you can't see an overview of Vodafone's network across the country in the images above, it's fairly obvious that Vodafone's reach isn't as extensive as the other two. While it won't matter so much if you live in a metro area, those living in more remote or regional areas may struggle under the Vodafone network.

Trophy iconWinner for best coverage: Telstra
It's hard to judge when it comes to coverage since so much of it depends on where you live or need to be. Telstra takes the cake for this one since it's the most extensive network available.

Which has the cheapest plans?

We'll only consider the cheapest plans for each provider in its postpaid offerings since prepaid options will be discussed in their own section below.

Telstra

Telstra's postpaid plan offerings range from $50-$100 monthly. You can also pair any of its postpaid plans with a mobile handset if you're after a new phone.

  • Cheapest plan: 30GB for $50 per month.
  • Also includes: Unlimited talk and text, data-free sport and music streaming, Telstra Air Wi-Fi, potential 5G trial and "endless" data (at 1.5Mbps past your data cap).

Optus

Optus's postpaid plans are priced at a slightly lower price range than Telstra, with plans costing between $39 and $79 a month. With this cheaper price though, you'll also see a reduction in extra inclusions.

  • Cheapest plan: 10GB for $39 per month.
  • Also includes: Unlimited talk and text and data pooling.

Vodafone

Priced very similarly to Optus, Vodafone's postpaid plans start at $40 a month and go all the way up to $70 a month.

  • Cheapest plan: 10GB for $40 per month.
  • Also includes: Unlimited talk and text and "endless" data (at 1.5Mbps past your data cap).

Trophy iconWinner for best cheap plan: Vodafone
Between all three, Vodafone and Optus have the cheapest postpaid SIM only plans. But Vodafone nabs the win slightly here thanks to the "endless" data on its postpaid plans.

Which has the highest data mobile plan?

When it comes to choosing a data limit, you need to consider your own data needs. Comparing the three big providers, we'll just look at the lowest and highest allowances on offer from each, considering both prepaid and postpaid plans.

ProviderSmallest planLargest plan
Telstra10GB for $1 (7-day expiry)150GB for $100
Optus35GB for $30 (10GB after third recharge)120GB for $79
Vodafone25GB for $30 (when you auto-recharge)150GB for $90

If you buy a standard SIM only plan from either Vodafone or Telstra, you'll also get what's known as "endless" data. This means you won't get charged excess data fees, but your download speeds will be capped at just 1.5Mbps past your limit.

Trophy iconWinner for best data allowance: Vodafone
For raw data alone, Telstra and Vodafone both provide a whopping 150GB plan for those who really want it. They both also offer "endless" data on their postpaid plans, so you'll never run out of data. However, Vodafone nudges slightly ahead here since its plan is cheaper by $10 per month.

Which offers better prepaid options?

Prepaid plans let you pay for all your usage upfront. You pay a certain amount at the start of the month, get a particular amount of data, talk and text, and have your usage cut off when you hit that limit. Prepaid options are good for people who like flexibility and want to avoid excess data charges.

Here are the different prepaid plans that each provider currently offers:

Telstra

  • Short expiry. 1GB for $10 that lasts 7 days.
  • Monthly expiry. Standard 28-day expiry plans include 25GB for $30 or 35GB for $40, but they drop to 8GB and 18GB respectively after the third recharge.
  • Long expiry. Choose 60GB for $150 with a 6-month expiry or 150GB for $300 with 12 months expiry.
  • Long Life Plus. Get $30 of credit that lasts for 6 months. Charges are deducted on a pay as you go basis until you reach zero.

Optus

  • Epic Data. 28-day expiry on 35GB for $30 up to 55GB for $50 (drop to 10GB and 30GB respectively after third recharge).
  • Epic Value. 2GB for $30 up to 15GB for $50, with expiry periods of 42 days.
  • Daily plus. Purchase $30 of credit with a 186-day expiry. $2 will be deducted from your total credit every day you make a call, send a text or use data.
  • Long expiry. Buy between $30 and $50 of credit that expires after 186 days. Charges will be subtracted from your total credit on a pay-as-you-go basis until it reaches zero.

Vodafone

  • Combo Plus. The cheapest prepaid plan expires after 28 days while the others last 35. Get between 25GB for $30 and 55GB for $50. Data falls to 10GB and 30GB respectively if you don't opt into auto-recharge.
  • Pay and Go. Purchase $30 to $50 of credit that lasts for 180 or 365 days. When you make a call, send a text or use data, charges will be deducted from your total credit until it hits zero.
Trophy iconWinner for best prepaid plans: Three-way tie
If you're looking for pure data value for prepaid plans, then Optus has the best options for the cheaper end of the spectrum (at least for your first few recharges), while Telstra offers by far the most long-expiry data on a prepaid plan. All three providers have comparable long-expiry PAYG plans.

Which has better value mobile plans?

If you're looking for a new mobile phone, one of the more convenient ways is to pick one up with a phone plan attached. Determining who has the better value phone plan really depends on what kind of plans you're looking for. We'll go through the various offerings from each provider so you can see them side by side.

Telstra

  • SIM only postpaid. Choose between 30GB for $50 monthly up to 150GB for $100 on a month-to-month contract.
  • Prepaid - short expiry. 1GB for $10 that lasts 7 days.
  • Prepaid - full expiry. Standard 28-day expiry plans include 25GB for $30 or 35GB for $40, but they drop to 8GB and 18GB respectively after the third recharge.
  • Phones on a plan. Telstra has the full range of new handset models, including iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, the Pixel and more. You can get them on any of its postpaid plans on a 24- or 36-month contract.

Optus

  • SIM only postpaid. Get between 10GB for $39 monthly up to 120GB for $79. All plans are on a month-to-month basis.
  • Prepaid. Epic Data plans come with a 28-day expiry period on 35GB for $30 up to 55GB for $50 (drops to 10GB and 30GB respectively after the third recharge). Epic Value plans give 2GB for $30 up to 15GB for $50 with expiry periods of 42 days.
  • Phones on a plan. As a major provider, Optus has all the latest handsets on offer. They come with one of Optus's regular postpaid plans on a 12-, 24- or 36-month contract.

Vodafone

  • SIM only postpaid. Pick between 10GB for $40 monthly up to 150GB for $90. Each plan runs month to month.
  • Prepaid. The cheapest prepaid plan expires after 28 days, while the others last 35. Get between 25GB for $30 and 55GB for $50. Data falls to 10GB and 30GB respectively if you don't opt into auto-recharge.
  • Phones on a plan. Just like the other providers, you can pick up a new iPhone, Samsung, Oppo or other handset on a Vodafone postpaid plan with a 12-, 24- or 36-month plan.
Trophy iconWinner for best value mobile plans: Three-way tie
Since all three providers offer such a wide range of plans, it's hard to compare them outright. However, Optus and Vodafone technically have the cheapest postpaid plans available, while all three have fairly similar prepaid offerings. Value is largely similar across the board and really depends on what your mobile usage habits are like, though Vodafone tends to be cheaper than Telstra in most categories.You can pick up a new handset from all three, though Optus and Vodafone have the shorter contract lengths.

Which offers the most extra features?

Big mobile providers are well known for offering a whole bunch of extra features and benefits to entice new customers. Here's what you can expect from the big three if you sign up to their plans.

Telstra

  • 5G trial (until June 2020).
  • Telstra Air Wi-Fi. Access to 1 million free Wi-Fi hotspots on any Telstra plan.
  • Free sports streaming. No data use on certain sports like AFL, NRL and others.
  • Free music streaming. No data use when listening to Apple Music, though you still need your own subscription.
  • International call packs. Add free calls to 25 countries for $10 a month.
  • Telstra 24x7 app. Phone app for customer support and plan management.

Optus

  • Free music streaming. 6- or 12-month free trial to Apple Music and you can stream it with no data charge.
  • Data pooling. If you have multiple plans on one account, you can share data between them.
  • International inclusions. Free talk and text to 35 countries on all but the most basic postpaid plans.
  • Optus Sport. Special access to the Premier League and other sports events.
  • My Optus app. Comprehensive app for customer service, plan management and so forth.

Vodafone

  • Bonus data for students. Get loads more data for the same price on postpaid plans.
  • Discounts on bundled plans. Put your plans together on the same account and you could be eligible for discounts.
  • 30-day network satisfaction guarantee. Drop your plan with no penalty if you aren't happy with Vodafone in the first 30 days of service.
  • $5 roaming. You can get some international roaming packs for $5 a month.
Trophy iconWinner for extra features: Telstra
In terms of sheer number of features, Telstra has the most available that you're likely to take advantage of. However, Optus isn't too far behind, especially if you like streaming sports with its Optus Sports feature.

mom with kids taking selfie

Telstra vs Optus vs Vodafone: Who wins?

Depending what you're after, all three providers are fairly comparable in value. Telstra is the most expensive of the lot but has the most included features on its plans, though Vodafone beats out its 150GB plan by $10 per month. Otherwise, you can pick up a new handset from any of the big three from about $40 per month.

Remember, the best provider for you will depend entirely upon your own circumstances and whether you're looking to get something specific out of the provider. For example, if you live in a rural or regional part of Australia, the best provider for you may be Telstra due to its extensive coverage compared to the other two. The previous judgement is based on the value of plans and features that the provider offers and doesn't take into account personal preferences.

Picked your provider? Check out month-to-month plans from the big 3 below

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4 Responses

  1. Default Gravatar
    PeterMarch 1, 2018

    Wife and both pensioners.With Telstra on a No Contract Go Mobile Casual Plan @ $35/ Month each with usual Unlimited calls,text etc. Don’t need International.Both our mobiles are about 5 years old and showing their age.We only make Phone calls and Text, with 500Mb small data usage which we only use to send /receive photos — Don’t do games etc
    Need your opinion re as follows: Looking at Virgin / Optus deal using Samsung A5 [ 2017 ] Cost is $36/ month NIL Cost for phone.Includes Unlimited calls / text and 2G Data all on 24 Month Contract.
    Can you confirm this is a good plan for us and can you advise where we can obtain Insurance in case we lose or have phones stolen
    Thank you

    • Avatarfinder Customer Care
      RenchMarch 14, 2018Staff

      Hi Peter,

      Thanks for your inquiry.

      Whilst we cannot say which one is best or recommend a specific plan for you, you can consider Optus $36 plan. It depends on your needs and your budget. Alternatively, you can also have a look at this page and compare other plans. You can make use of the search filter tool on the side of the page and also select a phone that you prefer in the plan. Once you’ve decided, you may click on the ‘Go to site’ button and purchase the plan from the provider’s official site.

      Best regards,
      Rench

  2. Default Gravatar
    VeronikaAugust 11, 2017

    Am having trouble finding a service provider at Fingal 3939 as Telstra say there are no portholes available and there could be a 3 month wait. We are looking for a landline and internet package and use the phone for international calls as well. can you help us with a speedier service?

    • Default Gravatar
      JonathanAugust 11, 2017

      Hello Veronika,

      Thank you for your inquiry.

      You may do a serviceability check to know which are available to you. Please put your complete address on the search field and then click “Home” or “Business” whichever applies. After that, you would see the list of providers and products on the comparison table being updated. You may customize the results by price, data, speed and contract.

      We urge you to click “View Details” prior “Go to Site” to understand more about the product before applying. Alternatively, you may review the Critical Information Summary that is located on the providers’ webpages.

      Hope this helps.

      Cheers,
      Jonathan

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