What's the best Australian iPhone 3G plan?

Best bang for your buck

When it comes to the iPhone 3G, Australian consumers have the choice of three carriers, pre-paid or post-paid plans, outright or monthly handset costs, and different data allowances. There are more than 36 different iPhone plans available to Australians. Don't worry — we were confused too. But we've pored over the fine print, analysed the potential costs, and worked out the best value plans for different types of iPhone users.

Budget

"Budget" isn't really a term you can legitimately associate with the iPhone 3G. It may look pretty, but it also costs a pretty penny. If you just want to replace your $29 Nokia 5110 then you best look elsewhere! But for those who want to pay as little as possible for an iPhone 3G, there are a few options.

The cheapest plans come from Optus with its $19 plan and $19 Cap. The $19 'Yes' plan offers the lowest minimum cost, at $912 for the 8GB iPhone and $1032 for the 16GB handset. The plan includes $14 worth of calls at a call rate of 46c per 30 seconds and 100MB of data. However, with Optus' $19 Yes' Cap you'll get $50 worth of calls at 47c per 30 seconds, and 100MB of data. The minimum cost goes up to $960 for the 8GB phone and $1080 for the 16GB over 24 months, but this is well worth it for the extra calls.

Telstra's cheapest plan comes close, at $999 for the 8GB iPhone 3G and $1119 for the 16GB version on its $30 per month plan. With only $25 worth of calls (at 46c/30secs) and a paltry 5MB of data allowance, Optus is by far the best choice.

Mid-range plans

Based on current plans, you're looking at spending $49-$79 per month to get enough of a data allowance to see you through all the mail and Web browsing you need, with some YouTube viewing on the side.

Vodafone provides some stiff competition in the mid-range pricing arena, but Optus still manages to come out on top. Its 'Yes' $59 Cap attracts a minimum cost of $1464 for the 8GB iPhone and $1584 for the 16GB model over 24 months. This includes $350 worth of calls at 40c for 30 seconds and 500MB of data — a fantastic deal. If you need that little bit more data, its standard 'Yes' $59 plan offers an extra 200MB, at the cost of decreased call value.

Those keen on using the iPhone 3G's data capabilities should be wary of additional costs. Vodafone's $69 plan with 250MB of data may seem more expensive, but know what you're buying — Vodafone charges 12c per extra MB if you go over, whereas Optus charges 35c per MB. Telstra offers measly data allowances, maxing at 25MB with its combined data and voice plans and charging an extra $1 per MB.

High-end user

If you're a true disciple of the iPhone, you're more than likely going to max out your data, voice and text. Carriers will act as if you're king, offering you a free handset. But, as always, there are the hidden costs — with Telstra's high-end 24 month contracts, you're halfway to buying a new car. Still, if you can't be surgically removed from your phone and want decent value, there are some worthy options.

Optus offers customers with a free handset on its $149 and $179 Cap plans, but Vodafone actually comes out on top in terms of minimum costs. Its $169 plan still has an upfront cost for its handset, but its total minimum cost is $4145 for the 8GB handset and $4225 for the 16GB. The plan includes $1200 worth of national calls at 40c/30secs and 1GB of data, with 12c per extra MB.

All things considered

Despite the confusion surrounding carrier plans, there is still some value to be found. Optus' iPhone plans offer better data allowance than its standard mobile plans.

The most important aspect to consider is pre-paid or post-paid. Although pre-paid seems to offer more freedom and allows for decreased cancellation charges, a comparison of Optus' pre-paid and post-paid plans quickly indicates that its 24 month post-paid plans offer far more value than its pre-paid ones. If you're already an Optus customer and don't need to get out of there in a hurry, it's best to stick with the carrier and switch to a 24 month post-paid plan if possible.

Of course, Optus also offers 12-month contracts, which may seem enticing to those who can't stand being shackled to the same deal for two years straight. Although its 12-month contracts do offer slightly decreased minimum costs, the 24-month contracts are much better value — an 8GB phone on the $19 'yes' Cap costs $960 over 24 months compared to $840 over 12 months, for example. The best option when considering which plan to choose is how you will use the phone and how long you're happy to stay with the carrier for. In our view, the best option is a mid-range Optus 'Yes' Cap on a 24 month contract.

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James Hutchinson

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