Mobiles in Australia

 

Do: take your cell phone to Australia

If a mobile phone is part of your routine at home, constantly searching for a hotspot in Australia will drive you nuts. A local SIM isn’t expensive, and is zero hassle to get hold of. If you already carry an unlocked phone, you’re all set—as long as it operates on the GSM 900/1800 MHz bands (almost all do these days). If you have a locked phone, call your home network— unlocking can be cheap. If even that fails, you can buy a phone in Oz pretty cheaply. For example, the cheapest prepaid (pay-as-you-go) Optus handset, the Samsung E3210, costs $49.

Don’t: roam with your home network

It’s seamless and hassle-free, yes. But it will get very expensive, very quickly. For example, one UK network charges £1.20 per minute in Australia, and a different network charges data at £3 per megabyte (Mb). To give you a pointer: one search on Google Maps could burn a few Mb within minutes. A major US network charges $1.99 per minute for roaming calls from Australia and $15 per Mb. But there are Australian SIM cards that charge calls at 4¢ per minute, and you can get two weeks of unlimited data for $30.

Do: think carefully about which parts of Australia you’ll be in before buying a SIM

In many rural areas, Telstra Next-G is the only mobile network that operates, which should swing the balance in Telstra’s favor if you are planning to spend time “in the bush.” The network offers 99% population coverage and 30% land area coverage, far greater than the other two major networks, Optus and Vodafone. But check whether your existing GSM handset is compatible: Next-G uses the non-standard 850 MHz frequency for its 3G service, which means that many smartphones will not be able to connect to it via 3G. If your mobile phone does not support 850 MHz 3G, then you will be restricted to Telstra’s 2G network, which means slow data speeds and reduced rural coverage (although still better than the other two networks). Telstra offers an online compatibility check website; enter your device’s IMEI number to find out whether it is Next-G compatible. Telstra’s contract-free, prepaid Beyond Talk plan probably works out best: a $30 top-up buys $30 of credit plus 200 minutes of bonus voice call time within Australia, plus 200 free domestic SMS messages, plus 200Mb of data.

 

Do: browse the Web from your mobile, just as you would at home

Probably the best all-inclusive deal, for anyone travelling just to popular spots and cities, is the Optus Prepaid Social tariff: a $30 recharge buys $30 of credit, plus 250 inclusive minutes for use on calls within Australia and to 23 countries overseas including Canada, France, Germany, India, New Zealand, Singapore, the UK, and the USA; 500Mb of data is also included, along with unlimited free texts within Australia and unlimited access to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn… and MySpace.

Don’t: try to buy a SIM online

You'll have no problems buying a SIM in person, but unless you have access to a permanent Australian address (through friends, family or work), and preferably can borrow their Australian credit card, then buying plans and SIMs online isn't recommended. Store locators for the major networks are all online: Telstra, Vodafone and Optus. Phones are also sold at electronics retailers such as Dick Smith, JB HiFi, and Harvey Norman, and SIM cards are available from convenience stores and service stations, too.

Do: work out in advance if you’ll be making lots of calls home

If you're going to make long calls home, dedicated international SIM providers Amaysim, Lebara and Lycamobile are almost always cheaper than other networks. The one to pick will depend on where you’re going to be calling, and for how long. Rates change a lot, but as of January 2013, Lycamobile has the lowest per-minute rates for most countries, but charges a 29¢ connection fee. Amaysim is generally a couple of cents a minute more expensive but does not charge the connection fee. Lebara is between the two in price-per-minute terms and also charges a 29¢ connection fee. However, Lycamobile does not offer data at all, so Lebara is the best option for people who wish to make long calls overseas but also use a bit of data as they travel. Charges for calling the UK, USA, Canada average between 3¢ and 6¢ per minute.

** For tons more on finding the best SIM deals, how to save even more money using “virtual networks,” details on prepaid call charges, 4G/LTE in Australia, and much more, The Smart Phone Traveler’s Guide to Australia , by John Band and Donald Strachan, is available in the Kindle store for $2.99/£2.06.

 


 

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