Telstra mobile plans review

How does Australia's biggest telco fare against the competition?

Telstra
(Image: © Tom's Guide)

Tom's Guide Verdict

As Australia's largest provider, it should come as no surprise that Telstra's mobile coverage is unmatched. Apart from boasting the country's largest 5G network, Telstra also offers great options for those after huge amounts of data. That said, Telstra is easily the priciest major telco in Australia, and its entry-level plans aren't great value.

Pros

  • +

    Most reliable network

  • +

    Widest coverage

  • +

    Plenty of options

Cons

  • -

    Comparatively expensive

  • -

    Weak value on cheaper plans

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As Australia's leading telecommunications provider, Telstra undoubtedly offers the most reliable mobile network in the country, not to mention the widest coverage, with its 5G network now reaching 85% of Aussies.

Telstra also provides a number of wide-ranging mobile plan options, from options which include a handset, to pre-paid and post-paid SIM-only choices for those who already have a device.

And while off-shore customer service has long been a thorn in the side of the average Telstra customer, we were pleased to discover that this has improved over the last couple of years — as of mid-2022, Telstra's support team now mostly consists of remote workers within Australia, making it easier for Aussies to communicate their issues over the phone.

That said, Telstra's premium service comes at a significant cost, with plans that are generally more expensive than the competition — particularly at the entry level. 

For the price, you do get the most consistent download speeds of any 5G mobile network in Australia (although Optus has taken OpenSignal's 5G Download Speed award for the last 4 years straight), along with huge amounts of data on the higher-priced plans.

It's also worth noting that while an internal error saw Telstra accidentally leak the personal data of some customers in the past, the company has never been the victim of a cyberattack — a claim that its biggest rival, Optus, cannot make after suffering a massive data breach in 2022.

Telstra mobile plans and pricing

  • Telstra SIM Only plans significantly more expensive than competitors
  • No lock-in contracts for Telstra Upfront plans

When it comes to pricing, there's no denying that Telstra's plans are among the most expensive you can sign up for in Australia. Of course, value for money is subjective, and some may consider Telstra's high prices worth paying for the best coverage in Australia.

Telstra offers its own take on SIM-only plans, dubbed 'Upfront' plans, which are named as such because they are charged ahead of time as opposed to after the fact. Thankfully, there are no lock-in contracts for any of the Upfront plans, and users can switch to another Telstra plan once a month if they find their needs have changed.

Telstra's Upfront plans start at AU$62 p/m for its Basic plan, which offers 50GB of monthly data with download speeds capped at 250Mbps. Next, Telstra's Essential plan grants users 180GB of monthly data at uncapped speeds for AU$72 p/m. 

Call us crazy, but we'd argue that there's an unreasonable gulf between the Basic and Essential plan in terms of value — the fact that only 10 bucks separates plans with 50GB of data at capped speeds and 180GB of data at uncapped speeds is honestly mind-boggling.

Rounding things out, Telstra's third and final Upfront plan offers 300GB of monthly data at uncapped speeds for AU$95 p/m. Included with each Upfront plan are unlimited calls and texts to standard Australian numbers, 30 minutes of calls to standard international numbers and unlimited texts to standard international numbers.

For the sake of comparison, Telstra's nearest competitor, Optus, offers significantly better value with its SIM-only plans — its AU$59 p/m Medium Optus Choice Plus Plan  is already AU$3 cheaper than Telstra's entry-level Basic offering, only with twice the monthly data (100GB) and with uncapped 5G download speeds.

Alternatively, Telstra also offers a range of pre-paid SIM starter kits for new customers, starting from AU$12 for 3GB of data and a 7-day expiry. 

We can't see any Australian residents choosing this option, so we'll skip ahead to the AU$35 starter kit, which has a 28-day expiry period and offers 35GB of monthly data for the first 3 months. After this, the limit drops down to 15GB.

Next, you have a AU$45 starter kit which provides 50GB of monthly data for the first 3 months, after which it drops to 25GB. From here on, Telstra's SIM starter kits are for 6 and 12-month expiry periods.

Please note, while all of Telstra's pre-paid SIM starter kits offer access to the telco's 4G and 5G networks, download speeds are capped to 150Mbps.

Telstra mobile plans: price and data comparison

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Plan sizeTelstraOptusVodafone
SmallAU$62 / 50GBAU$49 / 30GBAU$49 / 50GB
MediumAU$72 / 180GBAU$59 / 100GBAU$59 / 180GB
LargeAU$95 / 300GBAU$69 / 220GBAU$69 / 360GB
X-LargeRow 3 - Cell 1 AU$89 / 360GBRow 3 - Cell 3

Telstra mobile coverage

  • Telstra has the widest reach of the three major telcos
  • Optus still holds award for fastest 5G download speeds

As we mentioned earlier, Telstra has the largest reach in Australia when it comes to coverage, with its 5G network now reaching around 87% of Australians as of February 2024

That's an impressive number, and we have to assume it's still a substantial lead over Optus and Vodafone — both of which haven't yet divulged percentage figures for their Aussie 5G coverage.

But while Telstra's 5G network has the best coverage, it can't claim to be the fastest in Australia — that honour goes to Optus, which has won OpenSignal's 5G Download Speed award for the last four years in a row.

Of course, those speeds were achieved under very specific circumstances and don't necessarily reflect real-world usage for most Aussies. In fact, OpenSignal still acknowledges Telstra as the "outright winner" when it comes to 5G reach and overall reliability.

When it comes to the reach of its older 3G and 4G networks, Telstra again takes the crown for widest coverage, claiming to reach 99.6% of the Australian population. Optus isn't far behind however, and states its 3G and 4G networks cover 98.5% of the population. Things get a bit fuzzier when it comes to Vodafone. The latter claims its networks reach 96% of the 'metropolitan' population, which is quite different from Telstra and Optus's statements, which imply the Australian population as a whole.

Telstra mobile plans: Extras, perks and offers

  • Telstra Plus members earn points to spend in Telstra Rewards store
  • Telstra Personal customers get bonus streaming offers

All Telstra customers have the option of signing up to Telstra Plus — a rewards program that's free to join if you have a Telstra ID account and are paying for an eligible Telstra mobile or internet service.

Telstra Plus membership comes in four tiers depending on your annual spend with the telco. The entry-level tier is Member, which gets benefits like discounted tickets to movies, concerts and sporting events. Next is Silver, which gets the same, along with extra customer service attention in the My Telstra app, and 25% off points used to buy content on Telstra TV. Gold goes one step further, adding VIP customer service in the My Telstra app and Gold early access to concert pre-sales. Finally, there is the Business tier, which is reserved for businesses and offers similar value to the Member tier.

Every dollar spent on one of Telstra's eligible services also gets you Telstra Points, which can be spent in the Telstra Rewards Store. These points can be used to redeem anything from a USB charging cable, to a new iPhone. Of course, you'll need to spend upwards of 500,000 points to get your hands on the latter.

Additionally, Telstra Personal customers (excluding pre-paid) also get a range of entertainment offers, including 4 months of Spotify Premium, 2 months of Binge, 3 months of Flash, 14-days of Kayo and a month of Foxtel Now — so long as you sign up via Telstra.

Telstra mobile plans: customer service and community reviews

  • Support team now almost entirely based within Australia
  • Mostly negative online reviews from customers

As we mentioned earlier, Telstra's customer service received a massive upgrade in quality starting around mid-2022, with the telco drastically reducing its use of off-shore call centres in favour of a new local support team. 

When Telstra customers phone customer service now, they'll more than likely end up speaking to a support agent based locally in Australia, rather than someone overseas — a move which should minimise communication barriers.

Alternatively, customers who'd rather solve their account or service-related issues in person also have the option of visiting a Telstra retail store for face-to-face support. Telstra's retail network consists of around 270 stores across Australia, including independent licensees (in 2021, Telstra announced it would be shaking up its retail store network, with major changes expected by 2025).

Of course, not all Telstra customers are happy — the telco has received overwhelmingly negative online reviews from customers on sites like Product Review and Trustpilot, earning a score of 1.4 stars out of 5 on the former, and 1.3 stars out of 5 on the latter. 

Before you get your pitchfork out, it's worth noting that Optus and Vodafone have both received similar scores on the same sites. All those ratings are likely skewed by the fact that many customers only bother reviewing a service when they've had a bad experience, resulting in a score that's biased towards the negative, and doesn't necessarily reflect the opinion of most customers.

Furthermore, the consumer advocacy group Choice awarded Telstra as the Best SIM + handset phone plan provider in Australia last year.

Telstra mobile plans: Bottom line

Is a Telstra mobile plan worth your money? There's no denying that Telstra offers the most premium service of the three major telcos in Australia, boasting not only the largest 5G network, but also the most reliable and wide-reaching coverage. It also provides a sense of safety and dependability when it comes to your private data, as Telstra's cybersecurity has never been breached.

On top of this, Telstra has recently taken steps to radically improve its customer service, which has to be commended. Telstra Plus customers also get access to some nice benefits, including event discounts and points which can be redeemed on a variety of goodies.

But does the quality of its service justify its high pricing? All of Telstra's Upfront plans are far more expensive than equivalent offerings from other telcos, offering less monthly data for more money in every instance — particularly at the entry level. It's also worth noting that not everyone will care about the perks and extras that come with a Telstra Plus membership.

If you value reliability above all else, a Telstra mobile plan is likely your best option. However, if you're after value for money, you'll be better off choosing a plan from a Telstra network reseller, or alternatively opting for an Optus mobile plan.

Stephen Lambrechts

Stephen Lambrechts is the Managing Editor of Tom's Guide AU and has written professionally across the categories of tech, film, television and gaming for the last 15 years. Before Tom's Guide, he spent several years as a Senior Journalist at TechRadar, had a brief stint as Editor in Chief at Official Xbox Magazine Australia, and has written for such publications as APC, TechLife Australia, T3, FilmInk, AskMen, Daily Telegraph and IGN. He's an expert when it comes to smartphones, TVs, gaming and streaming. In his spare time, he enjoys watching obscure horror movies on physical media, keeping an eye on the latest retro sneaker releases and listening to vinyl. Occasionally, he also indulges in other non-hipster stuff, like hiking.