Mobile phone features

The truth about mobile phone charges

Roulla Yiacoumi
Friday, December 10, 2010

What does it cost to make a phone call from your mobile phone? That depends. On a lot of things.

Are you calling a mobile or a land line? Are you calling in peak or off-peak? Are you a pre-paid or post-paid customer? Is it a full or half moon?

Understanding mobile phone charges requires a degree — in patience. Buried among the fine print, you discover extortionate per-minute charges, flag-fall charges, voicemail charges, and a bunch of other things you never knew existed.

A new mobile service provider in Australia called amaysim is throwing a big fat spanner in the works, claiming it can save the average Australian mobile phone user up to 50 percent on their mobile phone bill.

Once you get past the ridiculous name (it's pronounced amay-sim, as in, rhymes with "amazing"), does it really offer significant savings?

I wanted to put amaysim's claims to the test to see by how much, if any, it could cut my bill.

Like plenty of Aussies, I'm on a cap plan. Cap plans are easy. You sign up, you pay your bill, and you don't really have to worry about anything else.

I pay $35 a month. A bunch of calls, texts and data are included, and unless I go over my included quota — which has maybe happened once in recent memory — I don't have to worry about anything else. My credit card automatically pays my monthly bill and I never have to think about it.

I have no idea what I pay for calls, how many texts I send a month, or how much data I actually use. Most people don't. And why would you? You don't need to really concern yourself with these things when a cap plan covers you.

But in the name of research, I'm going to jump into the details of an average monthly bill and see if I'm better off an amaysim

Since both amaysim and I use the Optus network (I use it through Virgin Mobile), I can compare the plans fairly.

Here's what it costs me on Virgin Mobile and what it would cost if I was using amaysim:

My Virgin Mobile plan Using amaysim
One-minute call to Australian landline or mobile $1.39 (includes $0.40 flag fall)
Free to others on same mobile network
One-minute call to London mobile $2.20 (includes $0.40 flag fall) $0.29
One-minute call to London land line $0.85 (includes $0.40 flag fall) $0.15
Local SMS $0.28
Free to others on same mobile network
International SMS $0.45 $0.25
MMS $0.60 $0.49
International MMS $0.45 $0.75
Calls to check voicemail Free $0.15 per minute
Data $5 for 300MB $0.05 per MB ($15 for 300MB) or, buy 1GB data pack for $9.90 (suitable for iPad 3G use)

My last Virgin Mobile bill said I had made 28 calls worth $68.37. On amaysim, this would have cost $12.75.

Why the huge difference in call costs? One reason is the flag-fall charge my provider charges me. Flag fall is a fee you pay your mobile phone provider for the privilege of initiating a call, on top of what you pay per minute. amaysim CEO Rolf Hansen maintains flag fall charges are ridiculous and unnecessary.

To make a local call, Virgin Mobile charges me $0.99 a minute, plus a $0.40 flag fall. amaysim charges a much smaller $0.15 a minute for standard calls to either mobile or landlines, and there is no flag fall.

When I totalled them up, my $35 bill would have cost $26.53 if I was on amaysim, a saving of $8.47 a month, or 24 percent. Over a year, I would save $101.64.

But here's what I like about Virgin Mobile:

  • A cap plan means I don't have to think about my usage. For roughly $8 a month, I'm happy to pay the extra in case I make a few more calls or use a bit more data. I don't want to worry about every megabyte I use or SMS I send.
  • Free same network (Virgin-to-Virgin) calls and SMS.
  • I can roll over any unused credit to the following month.

And this is what I like about amaysim:

  • Cheaper calls and texts.
  • $0.15 a minute calls apply to a bunch of international destinations, including landlines in the UK, Hong Kong, US, Canada, China and India.
  • You can call a mobile number in some places overseas, such as China, US and Hong Kong, for $0.15 a minute — the same as what it would cost you to call a friend in Australia!
  • No contracts.
  • Automatic top-ups of your phone credit.
  • Credit lasts 90 days.
  • It has an Australian call centre.

amaysim isn't for everyone. Plenty of people will prefer their cap plans.

But if you mostly make phone calls, maybe send the odd text, and data isn't a priority, you are far better off on amaysim.

Roulla Yiacoumi is an Australian technology journalist with 15 years playing experience under her gadget belt. Follow Roulla on Twitter.

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