Every time I got on a plane in the last twelve months, I told myself this would be the last time. When I landed back in Australia, I’d look at changing my phone plan. Definitely. This time, for sure. Well, it took long enough but I eventually got there. I finally made the swap from Vodafone to Telstra.
If coverage is going to be a gamble, I want the best odds
Telstra has always buoyed itself on the claim that they offer Australia’s largest network and there’s a reason that regulators like the ACCC never call them on it. It’s more-or-less true.
Sure, if you live in a metropolitan area, you’re going to get competing coverage from Optus and sometimes Vodafone. However, outside of those places, Telstra almost-always has the edge and it’s oftentimes in those places that having coverage is most important.
Telstra’s big claim is that their network coverage works out to include 2.5 million square kilometers. The telco say this covers 99% of the Australian population. In contrast, Optus only claims to cover 1.5 million kilometers and 98.5% of the Australian population.
That extra 0.5% might not sound like a lot but, if you’re living outside a major metropolitan area or further out towards the bush, it’s a pretty significant differential.
Ultimately though, I’m one of the lucky ones. I live in the inner west and even if I might find iffy connectivity incredibly annoying, it’s probably only a fraction of the frustration felt by those who live in parts of Australia where there’s been a historical trend towards under-investment in things like mobile and broadband infrastructure.
If you’re never traveling more than a few kilometers away from your home, having iffy network connectivity is something you might be able to live with. However, with both Optus and Vodafone failing to offer me good mobile connectivity across both my home and my morning commute on public transport in the past, it was only a matter of time before I took the gamble of changing my mobile provider.
It felt like neither provider could get it right in the places where they’re supposed to be the most competitive. The time felt right to tangle with Telstra.
I’m not flying anywhere anytime soon
The reality is that nobody is.
With coronavirus pressing pause on everyone’s international travel plans, one of the biggest things that kept me attached to Vodafone for so long - their roaming deal - no longer means anything.
Compared to the 100MB or 200MB of roaming data that Telstra and Optus offer for $10/day, Vodafone’s roaming package represents genuinely incredible value. You pay $5/day and get access to all the data your plan affords you. It’s not only cheaper but also more convenient, since it turns itself on automatically.
Unless you accidentally enable it in a country that isn’t covered, you basically never have to worry about returning to Australia from a trip overseas with an unexpected bill. Again, as someone lucky enough to travel for work with relative frequency, this is one of the biggest things that’s kept me on the Vodafone network.
But with COVID-19 restrictions expected to reduce international travel for the foreseeable future, the perk that used to be Vodafone’s biggest selling point now just feels like dead weight.
5G doesn’t matter yet but I want it anyway
Right now, if you’re trying to decide between mobile providers - it doesn’t make much sense to factor in 5G connectivity. Although fast expanding, next-generation coverage remains spotty and most consumers aren’t equipped to actually get the value out of it. Do you own any 5G-capable devices?
However, as someone who occasionally needs to test 5G connectivity as part of their job, I’m something of the exception to this rule. As someone who will likely be writing about 5G more and more in the coming years, having the ability to turn that on when needed is hard to pass up.
What’s more, while 5G isn’t available in my area yet but, when it does arrive, I want to see if it can cover for the National Broadband Network in the moments where it falls short. I’ve often thought about 5G as a potential workaround when issues occur with my home NBN connection and I doubt I’m the only one.
While I don’t know if I’m willing to pay an extra $10/month for the privilege, Telstra is still the best bet when it comes to keeping that door open. Optus might have beaten them to the punch when it comes to 5G home broadband options but Telstra’s lead in terms of network rollout can’t really be glossed over.
The Bottom Line
All this isn’t to say that Telstra is perfect. Their 15GB/$50 Small mobile plan is a joke compared to the alternatives and the fact that they still plan to charge for 5G as a premium add-on is enormously frustrating given that they’re already consistently the most expensive telco.
Nevertheless, as someone who is keen to see how much value they can really get out of 5G as it rolls out and isn’t traveling anytime soon, swapping from Vodafone to Telstra seems like the obvious choice. None of these advantages is worth it on their own but, with Vodafone's international coverage losing its luster in the wake of COVID-19, the math began to add up.
Who knows? I might only end up sticking with Telstra until international Qantas flights get back in the air but getting to experience the advantages they’re promising in terms of connectivity, coverage and speed firsthand is going to make my next telco swap either incredibly easy or genuinely difficult.