Mobile phone plans fall into 2 main categories: monthly account and pre-paid plans. Think about how you'll mostly use your phone, as this influences the type of plan that will best suit your needs.

Monthly account plans

Monthly account plans are most suited to people who use their phones often, may make calls rather than sending texts, or require large amounts of mobile data.

The most common monthly plans charge a fixed fee every month. This allows a certain number of "free minutes" during peak or off-peak times, after which you pay per minute. You’ll also get a data allowance and “unlimited” texts. There’s actually a limit to the “unlimited” texts, but you’ll only hit it if you text twice as much as a hyperactive teenager.

On some plans you will be able to add “packages” of free text messages, pixts and mobile data for an extra charge. Many monthly account plans require you sign up for a 12, 24 or 36 month term. They may also come with special deals such as free or discounted phones. These plans can lock you in to one provider, pricing plan and phone for a long time. Given the rapidly changing nature of the mobile market a shorter term is preferable, or no term at all if you already have a phone.

Pre-paid plans

Pre-paid plans are a good choice for people who use their phone to send texts more than making calls. They are also good for parents who want to control their children's usage, or as an emergency-only service.

"Credit" is paid in advance onto your phone, and topped up when it's running low. Topping up can be done via credit card online, through an app, by phone, or with top-up cards from retail outlets.

There is no long-term contract, and the only restriction is having to top up by a minimum amount once a year.

Currently the major telcos are offering semi-pre-paid deals, where you pay a set amount in advance each month to receive unlimited texts along with a limited amount of calling minutes and data. The price and amount of minutes/data vary but these can be an excellent alternative to a monthly account plan. They can also top-up automatically via credit card if you want to set that up.

Changing networks

Swapping a phone across networks is fairly easy.

For the most part swapping across networks is as simple as buying a new SIM card and putting it into your phone. But check first, as some phones only work on certain networks.

Spark has a web page where you can check compatibility of your phone with its network by entering the phone's International Mobile Equipment Identity (IMEI) number. Swapping from Spark to Vodafone or 2degrees is usually easier, but it still may pay to check that the phone can pick up the signal.

If you plan to buy a new phone and want it to work on a specific network, it’s essential to check the network compatibility of the phone before you buy. It’s safer to buy the phone from the network you plan to use. Check the compatibility of parallel imported phones for any of the 3 networks before buying.

When switching networks you can take your existing number across with you. It’s harder to do if you’re switching to a pre-paid plan, but is still possible if you go into a store. Again it’s fairly simple to do, with the system updating after a few hours.

Settling disputes

If you have an issue with a telco and have been unable to resolve it with them you could take your case to the Telecommunication Dispute Resolution service.

The TDR can look at unresolved complaints to do with billing, customer service, hardware faults, contracts, network performance, or something similar. This includes pre-paid mobiles.

TDR can consider:

  • Complaints about companies that are TDR scheme members.
  • Any service or product from any TDR member. You can also complain about how you have been charged for products and services (but not the pricing).
  • Complaints that have already been made to a telecommunications company, as long as it is within 12 months of the complaint first being made.
  • Complaints that involve claims for $15,000 or less, including compensation for direct loss.