Mobile phone strategy in Australia, Cheap SIMs and roaming data

Travelling around means an over-reliance on pay as you go services. Many will argue for cheap(er) roaming services and some of these are worthwhile looking at but if you are genuinely mobile, without a base or ‘home’ then the problem changes. Since I’m a frequent visitor to Australia, often staying 2-4 weeks I have need for mobile phone data but equally wish to maintain my old numbers. Fortunately I have a fairly good way to completely leverage the available products that works great in my circumstances only costings a few dollars each time.

Australia has had some comparatively expensively mobile rates particularly for data in the past however it is improving. Honestly though it has some fantastic network performance at times, although like always YMMV. While I’ve seen other places thankful for 20Mbit/sec speeds on 4G I was frequently getting that years ago on 3G and after getting a new iPhone last year was seeing speeds of 120Mbit/sec which is amazing really.

Problem is of course how much you can use it, with a gigabyte of data often costing many dollars. I’m mostly interested in data and not calls.

So first thing: the major networks here all offer decent service and performance. This may not be true for some location of course, but within the major cities there is minimal difference.

Second: Starter packs are often discounted heavily, sometimes from AU$30 to as low as AU$5. You can see where this is going…

Third: Simply activating a new sim each time I re-enter the country allows me to spend just a few dollars for a full service each time.

Generally I will stick to the major two providers and networks, Telstra and Optus. The former is the incumbent, once government owned, business and they are first and second respectively. Optus provides a good daily plan which just deducts credit on days you use the service – great if you’re here for a few days and gone again, that $30 starter kit lasts a while. Telstra offers no such plan but provides a fixed amount over 30 days. This used to be great for using in a tablet, a $30 kit (usually at minimum, discounted 50%) would provide 3GB for a month, and you would simply activate a new one each month.

As a traveller I have found one hidden trick to the Telstra offering. The $30 starter kit provides the fixed set of data and calls (the data allowance particularly seems to be increasing of recent) but also leaves you with $30 of credit. Now that amount would provide little in terms of $1/min calling but it can be used for an international data roaming pack, starting at $29. So after using my temporary SIM for data and calls throughout my stay I enable the roaming pack so I have a (very) small data allowance to use while roaming on arriving at the next location.

By using these products I spend on average AU$10-15 for a month which by local standards is quite cheap. Combine this with free Optus $10 kits sometimes offered through one of the local retailers and you can end up spending very little while maintaining a local number.

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