The dark art of paying less for mobile phone calls

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The dark art of paying less for mobile phone calls

The tricks of the trade explained, like bundling, fleet plans and BYO handsets. Here is our guide to avoiding paying too much.

If your employees have work-issued mobiles, there’s a good chance you’ve been on the receiving end of phone bills that have run into the high hundreds.

Thankfully, there are lots of ways you can reduce this expense, that add up to big savings off your bottom line. There’s no one-size-fits all solution that’s guaranteed to work for every small business; the key is understanding the needs and typical usage of your employees and finding the phone plans that best suit them.


Avoid paying too much by:

  • Cutting your mobile bills in half by moving up to a slightly higher plan or an unlimited plan
  • Keeping an eye on usage and taking advantage of add-on packs for things like data, international calls and roaming – they will prevent your bills spiralling out of control
  • Taking advantage of a carrier’s SIM-only plans by supplying your own handsets, letting you save up to $30 off each phone bill
  • Moving employees onto a cheaper fleet plan if the majority of their calls are to each other’s mobiles
  • Bundling your mobile plans with other services to save money off your monthly access fee


Dos and don’ts


The first step toward reducing mobile phone expenditure, says Will Irving, group managing director at Telstra Business, is having a clear understanding of how your employees are using their work-issued mobile phones.

Rohan Ganeson, director of sales at Optus, agrees. “The most important thing when selecting a business mobile plan is understanding how you need to use this service in your business. Then, look for a plan that offers great value for your usage needs.”

It could be as simple as discovering that your employees are on plans that don’t come with enough call credit. Cameron Craig, co-founder and director of WhistleOut (an Australian comparison site for services like mobile phone, broadband and insurance), says that much of the bill shock related to mobile phone bills comes from an inexact understanding of how capped plans work.

What you don’t want do, he says, is go on a cheaper monthly plan that doesn’t provide your employees with enough credit, as this will end up coming back to bite you.

“Standard mobile phone plans work out at just over $1 per minute when you include flagfall. When you have a doubling of your usage one month, you may think your bill will double, but it won’t. When you have $600 of included value for $60 a month (which equates to roughly 600 minutes), another 600 minutes is $600, and your bill is going to end up being $660.”

Consider the situation of Mary, a sole trader. She considers herself a medium user, and is currently on the $49 cap with Vodafone, which comes with $550 worth of credit. In recent months, all of her phone bills have exceeded $100. Under the original $49 cap, Mary’s typical usage is worth $615.70 a month. After the $550 credit is subtracted, that leaves an excess of $65.70, adding up to a phone bill of $114.70.

By spending an extra $10 a month on the $59 cap, Mary cuts her phone bill by more than half, has predictable mobile costs of only $59 a month, and has enough wiggle room in the cap ($750 of included value) for days when she’s on the phone more than usual.

Craig recommends unlimited plans for salespeople on the road. “For the typical salesperson that’s required to contact at least 15 people a day, you don’t want them to be saying, ‘Okay, I can only contact seven people, because my phone allowance doesn’t allow me to contact 15’. The differential between an unlimited plan and 600 minutes in a plan is around $30, and the payback is always there in sales.”

Add-on packs can save you money


If certain workers are using up lots of data, making calls to overseas numbers, or using their phones overseas, there are add-on packs you can apply that work out to be far cheaper.

A good example is Internet data. Excess usage fees can blow out a bill if an employee uses up his monthly data allowance early, but there’s no need to upgrade to a higher cap if it only happens occasionally. It may be more practical to add a data pack.

The trick is staying on top of your employees’ data usage and adding the data pack before they exceed their monthly limit. Telstra and Optus automatically send you a text message when you reach 80% of your monthly usage; Vodafone offers a similar ‘balance alert’ feature, but you need to sign up for this manually. You can also install smartphone apps that monitor 3G data usage and warn you when you’re close to exceeding your limit.

Let’s say an employee is on an Optus $99 Business Timeless plan. The excess usage rate is 10c a megabyte. He receives a text message saying that he has reached 80% of his monthly data allowance. If he’s only a few days away from the end of his billing cycle, you could simply add a ‘yes’ Biz Data $9.99 plan to his plan on a month-to-month basis, which adds an extra 700MB of data to his monthly allowance. If he had used 700MB without that data pack, he would have incurred $70 in excess usage fees.

It might be cheaper to use your own handsets

Some carriers offer cheaper monthly rates if you bring your own handset. Telstra, for example, offers $30 off its $129 Business Mobile Maximiser plans – the cheapest plan that the carrier offers with unlimited calls. If you take up this deal and pay $99 per month instead of $129, you’ll save $720 per employee over the life of each 24-month contract. You can then invest less than half of that into buying smartphones outright for each employee, or pocket the entire saving if you already have handsets in your inventory.

A fleet plan could save you money


The benefit of going on a fleet plan is that you get free calls to other users on the same account, and in some instances, you’re able to share the call credit and data allowance as well. If your employees make a lot of calls to each other, moving to a fleet plan means you may be able to reduce your mobile spend by going on a lower-value cap.

The best fleet plans for small business are the ones that combine free calls between users on the same account with a generous allowance of credit. Telstra’s $49 Business Mobile Maximiser plan is a good example. If one in five calls are employees talking to each other, and they’re making five calls a day for roughly five minutes each, you’ll save $150 worth of calls per month for each employee.

Bundled plans are often cheaper


Bundling your mobile phone bill with other services offered by that provider either saves money off your bill or gets you special perks that would otherwise cost you money. If you want a mobile phone along with a mobile broadband modem or a tablet, you can also find deals that bundle the two together.

Optus stands out as a provider with plenty of bundles on offer. You can, for example, get $20 off a Business Fusion plan (which combines office broadband and office phone services) if you bundle it with a $49 (or higher) eligible Optus mobile plan, and the plan includes unlimited calls to fixed lines and mobiles. Another Optus bundle gives you a free 50GB Business Broadband service (worth $59 per month separately) if you bundle it with an Optus $89 Business Timeless plan for 24 months and choose the HTC One X as the free handset. Optus’ Business Smart fleet plans also give you free 10-minute calls to three nominated numbers if you combine it with an Optus Business Phone or Business Broadband service.

What are the options?

Once you’re armed with a clear idea of what your employees’ needs are, the next step is checking that any plan you consider not only covers those needs, but also has enough wiggle room to accommodate months when their usage spikes.

You can always move up to a higher-value plan without penalty if your employees end up using their phones more than anticipated, but it’s worth bearing in mind that picking the right plan up-front means you can take advantage of better handset subsidies.

Coverage is something you should think about if your employees travel outside of the capital cities, and this may affect the carrier you decide on. All of the carriers have coverage maps on their websites that show you the areas covered by their networks, and the prices of each carrier generally reflect the reach of their network (ie. Telstra being the most expensive and having the widest coverage, followed by Optus, and then Vodafone).

If you’re attracted by the low prices offered by Vodafone but you’re not sure whether you’ll get satisfactory coverage, you can take advantage of the carrier’s network guarantee, which lets you break a contract within 30 days if you’re not happy with the service.


 Business scenario 1

An IT startup has five employees, limited capital, and wants a bundle that takes care of all of its telco needs. 

 Suggested Product

TPG Super SoHo Bundle 




This bundle offers excellent value, and comes with everything the company needs to get started. The five mobile phone plans come with ample credit ($550 to call non-TPG users, $3550 to call TPG users) and data (1.5GB), it comes with landline rental, unlimited ADSL2+ and an extra SIM for 1GB of mobile broadband


$129.99 a month, plus $79.95 setup, $120 for the 6 SIMs, $140 deposit and $10 delivery


The bundle comes with a 4-port ADSL2+ router, and you can upgrade to a 4-port Wi-Fi router for an extra $59.99. Mobile handsets and mobile broadband modem aren’t included



 Business scenario 2

A sole trader imports jewellery from China and Hong Kong. She’s in those countries for one week out of every month and calls suppliers there roughly every three days. When she’s in Australia, she makes five calls a day at most, but mainly communicates with customers over email, and she works on her laptop with a mobile broadband modem. 

 Suggested Product

Vodafone $59 Business Plan with a new 16GB iPhone 4S + using a China Unicom prepaid SIM whenever she’s in China and Hong Kong 


Vodafone offers excellent rates for calls to China and Hong Kong, and the calls come out of her generous $750 of included value every month. She also gets unlimited free text messages to overseas numbers. If she needs to make more overseas calls in any month, she can also add a Talk International $10 pack, which gives her 125 minutes of international voice calls. 


$59 per month for the Vodafone plan plus $14.50 (96RMB) a month for the China Unicom prepaid SIM, which comes with 240 minutes and 300MB of data.


She can save money by tethering her new iPhone to her laptop (instead of having a separate mobile broadband service).



 Business scenario 3

A public relations company has 10 employees with work-issued smartphones. They’re rarely at their desk, and have a high volume of calls with medium data usage. The employees often work from home as well.

 Suggested Product

Vodafone Infinite Shared Bundle for 10 users 


This plan includes 10 smartphones, unlimited calls and text messages and voicemail, 700MB of data each, with an extra 5GB of data to share with the team. It also comes with 10 mobile broadband devices with 1.5GB of data per user.


$799 a month


The selection of smartphones with this bundle is limited to the Apple iPhone 4S 16GB and the Samsung Galaxy S II



 Business scenario 4

An electrician has three workers that need to be able to take orders over the phone and communicate to the office throughout the day. Majority of the calls are incoming from the office switchboard, but they check-in back to the office 2-3 times a day. They don’t use data at all. 

 Suggested Product

Commander Clear Choice 29 + Commander Business First Office 1 plan


Having the company’s landline and mobiles on the same account lets them make free untimed calls to one another between 7am – 7pm Monday to Friday, which means nearly all of the mobile calls are free. It also comes with $300 of included value for other calls


$102 a month for the mobile service (which includes three Nokia C2-01 handsets) and $38.50 for the monthly line rental


This plan has a few restrictions: it doesn’t support 3G connectivity (data uses 2.5G, or GPRS), and Internet tethering and international calls aren’t supported 




 Business scenario 5

A bike parts distributor has six salespeople that travel all over Australia and they have a high volume of calls with medium data usage. The company is due to come off contract from their Vodafone business plan, and is looking for a provider that offers better coverage and faster data speeds. They already have six iPhone 4 smartphones.

 Suggested Product

Telstra Business Mobile Maximiser $99 BYO plan


With coverage of over 99% of the population  and support for the fastest data speeds, the distributor’s salespeople will be able to do their job more effectively. Bringing their existing iPhone 4 smartphones allows them to shave $30 off the monthly fee, and it offers controllable costs as calls and texts are unlimited and each plan comes with an ample 3GB of data per month.


$594 a month


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