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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.

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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. Before we start, here's a quick primer on the technical jargon that underlies all networks.

Understanding 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.

TelstraOptusVodafone
Coverage of Australia99.5%96.5%96%
Metro services3G, 4G, 4GX, 5G in limited areas3G, 4G, 4G Plus, 5G in limited areas3G, 4G
Regional services3G, limited 4G, 4GX, satellite mobile3G, limited 4G, 4G Plus, satellite mobile3G, limited 4G
5G availabilitySince 2019 in limited metro areasSince 2019 in limited metro areasSince March 2020 in limited metro areas
Additional coverage featuresTelstra Air - 1 million Wi-Fi hotspots nationally

All three carriers perform well in terms of metro coverage, offering high-speed 4G or enhanced 4G connections right across Australia. All three also have trial or limited access to their brand new 5G networks, which promise speeds many times faster than 4G to people lucky enough to live in the included areas.

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.

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

What do they each offer in their plans?

Telstra

Connection technologies: 3G, 4G, 5G (restricted)
Claimed coverage: 99.5%

Key features:

  • 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.


Telstra retains its spot as Australia's most expensive provider, with its postpaid plans costing at least $10 extra per month compared to similar Vodafone and Optus ones. The cheapest plan on offer is $50 for 15GB of data month to month, while the most expensive will net you 150GB for $100 monthly.

What sets Telstra's plans apart from its competitors are unlimited talk and text nationally on all plans, not just the most expensive. On a postpaid plan with Telstra, you'll never incur extra data charges, but your data will be throttled when you exceed your limits. While its prepaid plans are overall worse value for data than Optus and comparable to Vodafone, there is a surprisingly good long expiry data offer of 150GB over 12 months for $300.

If you're interested in getting a new phone attached to a plan, Telstra's minimum contract lengths are 24 and 36 months, so you'll be stuck with an expensive contract for a long time. Beyond this, it's simply hard to get over the fact that no matter what service you're getting with Telstra, it won't be a cheap one – their cheapest option is always more expensive than those from the other two carriers.


Optus

Connection technologies: 3G, 4G, 5G (restricted)
Claimed coverage: 96.5%

Key features:

  • 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.


Optus is, in many ways, a slightly more budget Telstra. All of its plans provide unlimited talk and text in Australia, with its cheapest promising 10GB of data for $39 a month and its biggest plan 120GB for $79 a month, which offers less data than Vodafone's 150GB for the same monthly price.

Its prepaid mobile plans are nice and flexible, with a range of good value data-focused, value-focused and long-expiry options that can be extensively customised with a wealth of add-ons. If you're interested in data, Optus offers the most raw data for your money out of all three major carriers, with data plans starting from $15 for 5GB to $50 for 75GB.

Rather than adopt Telstra's model of throttling your data when you exceed your postpaid limit, Optus will charge you a hefty $10 for every GB you go over, making bill shock a real threat.


Vodafone

Connection technologies: 3G, 4G, 5G (limited)
Claimed coverage: 96%

Key features:

  • 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.


Vodafone may be the smallest of the three carriers in raw terms, but it still has a good variety of plans depending on what you're looking for. Its cheapest plan isn't great at 10GB for $40 per month, but its top plan is better than the one offered by Telstra or Optus at 150GB for only $70 per month.

Even after you exceed your max data on a postpaid plan, Vodafone won't charge you extra but will still let you access the Internet at a functional 1.5Mbps. Their long-expiry prepaid plans are distinct in that you pay for a set amount of data over the period, in comparison to the other providers charging you per MB of use. You'll get more data for the same price if long expiry is important to you.

Unlike Telstra and Optus, Vodafone doesn't have a certain amount of guaranteed extra data on its prepaid plans. Instead, it forces you to go onto an Automatic Recharge scheme, which could be a problem for some.

If international minutes are important to you on plans, both Telstra and Optus have better inclusions than Vodafone and more minutes on offer. However, Vodafone should be noted for its $5 prepaid roaming, which lets you use your existing plan inclusions overseas.

Compare mobile plans from Optus, Telstra and Vodafone


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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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