There's many different mobile handsets on the market from a range of brands (for example, Apple, Samsung, LG, HTC and Microsoft). Most mobiles now use 4G mobile technology and share similar capabilities. However there are still 3G mobiles and the more basic 2G-enabled mobiles available and in use. Here's a quick guide to the different mobiles on offer.
Mobile phone technologies
Australian mobile networks currently use three mobile technologies:
- 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution)
- 3G (Third Generation)
- GSM (Global Systems for Mobile Communications) - a legacy mobile network
4G (LTE) smartphones
New mobile phones are now compatible with 4G mobile networks and are internet-enabled. 4G is the latest mobile technology to be rolled out widely in Australia and offers the fastest internet data speeds. 4G mobiles (or smartphones) are suitable for:
- voice calls, SMS and voicemail
- emails and instant messaging
- making video calls
- browsing the internet
- using social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram)
- watching videos (e.g. YouTube)
- streaming music and television/movies
Before getting a 4G mobile, you may wish to check that your provider offers access to a 4G network. 4G mobiles can be used with all three major telcos - Telstra, Optus and Vodafone - along with some, but not all, other telco providers. If you're with one of these other telcos, a 4G smartphone will be restricted to using their 3G network, so you won't get to enjoy the maximum data speed performance of your 4G device.
4G mobiles use a 4G network by default, but if you move out of a 4G coverage area they will automatically search for an available 3G network. They also still use the 3G mobile network to make traditional voice calls.
Although 4G coverage is widely available in Australia, particularly in urban areas, it hasn't been rolled out everywhere. It's a good idea to check your telco provider's mobile coverage map to see what 4G coverage they have in your area.
3G mobile phones
3G smartphones (that is, internet-enabled) offer similar characteristics as 4G mobiles for making calls, sending SMS and using the internet, however data speeds are not as fast as 4G mobiles. This won't matter for lighter data uses such as email or web browsing. However, the user experience when streaming videos or using other data-hungry internet activities may not be as smooth as on a 4G mobile.
More basic 3G mobiles are also still available. These use 3G networks but are mostly suitable for calls, messaging (text or pictures) and voicemail. They are also cheaper than 3G smartphones.
3G mobile coverage is wider than for 4G handsets at the moment and includes most of the Australian population. It's still wise to check your telco provider's coverage map to see what 3G coverage performance you can expect in your area.
At the moment, 3G mobiles automatically search for an available 2G network to make voice calls and send SMS if you move out of a 3G coverage area. However 3G mobile users should note that 2G networks will be gradually turned off as most people move to 3G and 4G mobiles.
GSM mobile phones
While still available, the use of GSM (2G) phones has largely been overtaken by 4G (and 3G) smartphones.
GSM phones were suitable for people who wanted more basic features such as voice calls, SMS and voice mail services. Although a small proportion of Australians still use GSM mobiles, mobile network providers in Australia plan to shut down their GSM networks soon. Telstra will switch off its GSM network on 1 December 2016 and Optus will close its GSM network on 1 April 2017.
Customers still using GSM mobiles will need to upgrade to 4G or 3G compatible handsets before their provider's GSM network is turned off to continue having mobile access.
Satellite phones have voice call and data transmission capability in remote Australia where no mobile phone coverage is present. Australian phone providers offer a variety of satellite phones including Thuraya and Iridum technology, which have Australia-wide coverage.
A clear line of sight between your satellite phone and the sky is needed for successful communication. The quality of a satellite call may be affected by atmospheric conditions and the local environment.
If you only make basic calls on an irregular basis, and already have an existing handset, a SIM-only service offers cheaper call rates with a low monthly access charge. Some older mobile phones may limit your service to GSM.
Mobile phones and plans
Most 'free' or heavily discounted phones are provided as part of a contract that binds you to a mobile phone company for a given period, usually 12–24 months.
During this period your mobile phone company may agree to provide you with a handset, connection to a network and, in many cases, a certain number of free calls, text messages or internet downloads per month. You can also access a range of services such as voicemail or equipment like a portable hands-free adaptor.
You are obligated to pay a monthly network access fee for the provision of your mobile service. In many cases this network access fee also includes other costs such as the price of the handset and access to additional services like voicemail.
More information about the types of mobile plans available is on our Getting a new mobile page.
A suitable handset
The more features the phone has, the more expensive it is likely to be.
Some other points to consider when choosing a mobile handset are:
- the size of the handset
- can you see and use the keypad properly?
- accessibility features
- for smartphones, the mobile operating system (e.g. Android, iOS (Apple), Microsoft)
- Internet access
- battery life
- are you paying for features you will not use?
- rural coverage: Some brands of mobile phones are better suited for rural use. An external antenna connected to a car kit can help extend your mobile coverage.
- the cost of a car kit
- international roaming: 4G and 3G mobile phones are widely accepted internationally. It is best to check with your mobile phone provider to determine if they have an agreement with the country you are going to visit.
- mobile phones and hearing aids: As a general rule, 4G and 3G phones are more suitable for users with hearing aids. See our hearing aids and mobile phone fact sheet for more information.
Please note: this document is intended as a guide only and should not be relied on as legal advice or regarded as a substitute for legal advice in individual cases.