Aldi Changes, Cheap Telcos, and Estimating Costs

I’ve been using Aldi as my mobile phone provider for two months now since Kogan was shut down [1]. Now Aldi have cut the transfer quota on their “Unlimited” plan from 5G per month to 2.5G per month. The most charitable interpretation of this would be that Aldi got a lot of former Kogan customers who needed the 6G per month that Kogan offered and that forced them to make changes to remain profitable. But the most likely possibility is that with less competition Aldi can just offer less for the same price.

This isn’t a huge problem for me, in two months on Aldi my biggest month involved almost exactly 2.5G of data transfer. But it’s annoying to lose something and it’s enough to make me consider other options. Also some of my relatives are looking for new plans so now is a good time to research the options.

Other Pre-paid Options

Lebara offers “Unlimited” plans that start at $30 per month and offer 1.5G of data [2], this compares well to the “Unlimited” plan of $35 per month from Aldi which has 2.5G of data (depending on whether 1.5G is enough).

Amaysim has an “Unlimited” plan that includes 4G of data for $40 per month [3]. If you make lots of phone calls and transfer more than 2.5G of data per month then that would be a really good deal.

Lebara uses the Vodafone network and Amaysim uses Optus. Neither of them compare to the Telstra 3G network if you want access outside major urban areas. I had Virgin (Optus network) work well for me for years and Three (their own network now part of Vodafone) work well for many years before that. But data transfer is becoming more important to me and the Telstra network is a major feature of Aldi.

Lebara has one of the wost web sites I’ve ever seen and Amaysim isn’t much better. Aldi is great, they just provide all the key data in one page. Aldi and Amaysim have Android apps that can be used for recharging and viewing the balance, Aldi’s app works well but I haven’t been able to test the Amaysim app. Lebara doesn’t even have an app.

Generally Lebara doesn’t seem to have anything going for it unless you want to make lots of calls to other Lebara customers, you want to make calls to certain other countries where Lebara has very low international rates, or unless you need a plan with “unlimited” calls but don’t need more than 1.5G of data.

The following table summarises the costs of the three pre-paid telcos.

Telco Flagfall Cost/min (Australia calls) SMS Data Cost/Meg Data Increment Credit Expiry and Minimum 30day Data Packs
Aldi 0 $0.12 $0.12 $0.05 1M 1 year $15 2G=$15
Lebara $0.29 $0.15 $0.15 $0.05 1K 90 days $10
Amaysim 0 $0.12 $0.12 $0.05 1M 90 days $5 1G=$10 2G=$20 4G=$30

Post-paid Options

Virgin’s cheapest offer is $20 per month for $200 of calls (at $0.98/min + $0.40 flagfall) and 200M of data [4], they currently have a special offer of an extra 1G if you sign up before the 18th of November. Virgin have a long history of periodically offering special deals so if you want to sign up with them some time in the next few months it’s best to poll their web site and wait for a deal.

The TeleChoice Global Liberty plan is a slightly better deal of $20 per month for $500 of calls (at $0.97/min + $0.40 flagfall) and 1G of data which also has free SMS [5].

TeleChoice Global Rebel Texter is a plan for $15 per month that includes $200 of calls and 200M of data and free SMS [6]. They also have a $10 per month plan which charges $0.22 per SMS, which would be bad value for anyone who sends 1 SMS per day.

At Aldi rates if you spend $15 per month on 2G of data and $5 on calls then you will get 41 * one minute calls as opposed to $200/($0.98+$0.40)==145 * one minute calls with the cheapest Virgin plan. It seems to me that there is little possibility for those two $20 post-paid plans (which seem to be two of the best value plans currently available) to compete well with the pre-paid options from Aldi and Lebara. Even if you have the same usage pattern every month there are only particular patterns which make the Virgin or TeleChoice deals most appealing options, for example if you need to make more than 40 minutes of calls but less than 145 minutes of calls then Virgin will look good. TeleChoice Global Liberty looks good if you make between 40 and $500/($0.97+$0.40)==365 * one minute calls.

If you only need a small amount of data transfer (less than 200M billed in 10K increments) then the TeleChoice Rebel Texter plan would look good as the Aldi 1M increments matter for small amounts of data transfer. But I don’t think that many people are in that situation, even my mother in law can’t easily stick within 200M of data transfer.

Measuring Phone Use

The first program I used for measuring phone calls is the Call & SMS Stats app from the Android Market [7]. I wouldn’t recommend this to technical users as it demands a lot of access to the phone (including reading SMS, accessing the phone storage, and sending data to the Internet), but it’s good for less technical users. For my use I prefer Call Meter 3G from the F-Droid repository [8]. I trust the Call Meter 3G program more because it’s source is available under the GPL and it also has the convenient feature of adding up the costs of the calls, SMS, and data used.

According to Call Meter 3G I’m using less than $20 of calls and SMS per month, so if I continue my current use with a 2G data pack every month from Aldi instead of buying a $35 “Unlimited” pack and don’t use more than 2G of data then I’ll save at least a few dollars every month. My wife makes fewer calls so I’ve already moved her phone away from the “Unlimited” plan and I’ll move my phone later if it looks like it will save money – she will now use my phone for making calls when we are together so the “Unlimited” plan may become good value when we share it.

The Case for Aldi

Aldi offers competitive options for phones for most levels of usage. While there are some post-paid plans which are better in some areas such as the ones from TeleChoice Aldi has the benefit of flexibility. A phone with Aldi can have it’s plan scaled up or down easily with no penalty fees.

For a phone to be usable for an entire year the cheapest option at the moment is Aldi which has a $15 recharge that lasts for a year. The next best option seems to be Amaysim with a $5 recharge that lasts for 90 days.

Saving Money

In the past I’ve been used to SMS being significantly cheaper than phone calls. When I was on Virgin and calls just over $1 per minute ($0.98 per minute plus the flag-fall) and SMS were $0.28 which made a simple question and answer cheaper by SMS than calling. But with Aldi charging the same for a 1 minute call and sending an SMS a simple question and answer will cost half as much if it’s done with a call so SMS isn’t a good deal. Also I’ve started using Google Hangouts to communicate with my wife instead of SMS as extra use of Hangouts is essentially free (we both have it running all the time for Ingress related communication anyway). The financial incentive now is to use Google Hangouts to replace some calls.

One down-side to saving money in such ways is that it restricts usage of the phone. While moving from SMS to Google Hangouts (or any other instant-messaging system) isn’t any great cost having to reduce the number of calls does. The ability to talk for as long as you want without bothering about cost is something that’s worth paying for.

I Hate Telcos

For most things that I spend money on I wouldn’t invest much effort to try and save $10 or $15 per month. Even when doing research that will help my friends and relatives and random people on the Internet I probably wouldn’t take so much time for a small saving. But the Telcos seems to avoid competing as much as possible which is obvious from the way that they increase prices and decrease services at the same time. Also most Telcos seem to have a business model that is based around exploiting customers, they have confusing terms in the contracts that make it very likely for customers to go over the included usage and hit penalty rates and charge unreasonable prices for the phones that are bundled with a telephony contract. I want to reduce the amount of money I pay to Telcos as a matter of principle.

Aldi is better than most Telcos, they have clear terms that are explained on a single web page [9], and they have an Android app to show the remaining credit that can reduce the risk of excessive fees if a 2G data block is used. Aldi sells phones in their stores at low prices, the phones that they sell aren’t the highest quality but the customer gets what they pay for and the warranty return policy is good. But we still need to find the best options so that market forces will encourage Telcos to make more reasonable offers.

6 comments to Aldi Changes, Cheap Telcos, and Estimating Costs

  • neonsignal

    At the minimal cost end, I’ve been using a Savvytel prepaid (Optus network) for an emergency mobile which I seldom use. The credit doesn’t expire (the small print is that you have to use the service at least once every six months, although a single 15c SMS is enough to satisfy this). The usage charges aren’t brilliant (12c/30sec, 5c/MB), but that doesn’t matter for my usage pattern. The original credit has been active over a year now, so far no problems.

  • Robert

    Just a reminder: Lebara are serious tax-dodgers, which disqualifies them from anything in my eyes.

  • etbe

    neonsignal: Thanks for the information, the above URL provides all the detail. It seems like a good offer for some people.

    Robert: What do they do exactly? If it’s the usual corporate thing of sending all revenue to a low-tax country then there doesn’t seem to be much possibility of an effective boycott of such companies as so many do it. We need government action.

  • Robert

    Lebara are particularly pernicious – they have more schemes going on than I can list, including a particularly unusual one involving the circumvention of VAT (“sales tax”).

  • The cynical might conclude that both Telstra and Optus gamed the non-premium consumer market and both the ACCC and ACMA should be prime candidates for Abbot austerity campaign. The lower prices originally offered by Woolworths/Kogan/Aldi churned a lot of subscribers away from Virgin/Vodafone. Then, by sheer co-incidence, Kogan got the boot, while Aldi and Woolworths chopped the rate.

    NOTE: ispONE went bankrupt “in boxes” – one box had all the debts and liabilities, the other box not so much (sigh).

    Much blame has been placed on the consumers by both Optus and Telstra for “unfair use”. Which makes sense until you examine the reality – most subscribed to the discounted reseller deals because they wanted what was offered.
    Having signed up for “unlimited phone calls and SMS”, and xGiB of data the suppliers (not the resellers) then argued that “unlimited” means “limited” and xGiB of data means “< xGiB" of data. The outcome is that Virgin and Vodafone lost subscribers to Kogan, Aldi, and Woolworths, who then lost many of them back to Optus and Telstra. Rinse and repeat? Bait and switch?

    The MVNO's buy "time" at an agreed rate from the (alledgedly) independant resellers, which they resell as "connections" (calls, SMS, data, etc). In the Kogan instance ispONE claimed they didn't have to honour the agreement because they didn't expect Kogan (or it's customers) to actually use the service. Which is like Coca Cola complaining they're not liable if the 1litre bottle only has 500ml – because buying 1l and expecting to drink it all is "unfair to other drinkers". is another Telstra reseller, their rates are currently slightly better than Aldi. I note that Optus has quietly but dramatically lowered their rates (though carefully hidden that amongst the usual confusing and nonsensical terminology). Look at the $2 day deals.

    Aldi still remain the best deal for economy mobile phone and data users with their $15pa deal.

  • etbe

    Scott, thanks for that. Above is the URL for the $2 days deal, it seems like a good option for a second phone. In summary you get 500M of data for $2 and a second 500M in one day if you use the first 500M block. $4 for 1G of data is a great deal. If I find myself regularly going over the 2G for $15 I get from Aldi then I could possibly use $2 days on Optus to make up the difference. Although in practice the amount of effort required for that is going to be more than it’s worth.

    The above URL has the limits Optus applies to it’s supposedly unlimited plans (in an MS-Office document if anyone wants to investigate meta-data). 2000 minutes per month can cause them to warn and possibly disconnect you, that’s merely an hour a day! They can sanction you for excessive INBOUND calls too!

    I think that lots of people don’t actually need what is offered. It was nice for my wife and I to each have 6G of data per month on Kogan but 2G for my wife and 2.5G for me is going to be enough almost of the time, I will probably be able to keep my own use within 2G a month if I try.

    The Australian Boost mobile is at the above URL. The URL you cited was for a different company in the US.