Let's talk about cell phones in Australia

6 November 2014

Ring, ring! It’s for you!
There are a lot of things to think about when it comes to planning your time in Australia. Have you found accommodation? Did you open an Aussie bank account? Did you pack your sunscreen? We live in a lightning-speed, technologically enhanced age. If you’re heading to Oz soon, another item on your to-do list is probably “find out more about cell phones in Australia.”

Study in Australia
Unlock your phone, and buy an Aussie SIM card!

Let’s talk providers

You’ve got a selection of Australian mobile phone and plan providers.

  • Telstra
  • Optus
  • Vodafone
  • Virgin
  • amaysim

What about brands?

They’re actually similar to North America’s:

  • Apple
  • Sony
  • HTC
  • Huawei
  • LG
  • Nokia
  • Samsung

Which one is best? Which one will work for you? Best to check out You Compare, a website that gives you a list of providers and phones and does the math for you http://youcompare.com.au/.
Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), which Rogers, Bell, and Telus use in Canada is the predominately used technology in Australia. Canada runs off the 850, 1700, 1900, 2100, 2600 frequencies. In Australia, the mobile phone providers use the 850, 900, 1800, 2100, or 2300 frequencies.
So what does this mean for your Canadian mobile phone? Do you keep it? Buy a new phone? Buy a new SIM card? House and feed carrier pigeons?

SIM cards

What’s a SIM card (aka subscriber identity module or subscriber identification module)? Basically, it’s the tiny removable plastic card inside your phone—the phone’s “brain.” The SIM card can be transferred between different mobile devices.
SIM cards that are issued by providers with an associated contract are called SIM-only deals. Common examples are the GSM networks in the United States, Canada, Australia, the UK and Poland. Many businesses offer the ability to remove the SIM lock from a phone, effectively making it possible to then use the phone on any network by inserting a different SIM card. Mostly, GSM and 3G mobile handsets can easily be unlocked and used on any suitable network with any SIM card.

E.T. phone home?

Okay, so you understand the basics. But what about frequencies and the best option for you? Frequency bands determine whether a certain phone is compatible with a certain network carrier.
In Canada
2G capabilities – GSM 850, GSM 1900 (Old! Talk and text only pretty much.)
3G capabilities – UMTS 850, UMTS 1700, UMTS 1900, UMTS 2100 (Offer faster data transfer rates. Suitable for use in modern smartphones, which require constant high-speed internet connection for many of their applications.)
4G capabilities – LTE 1700, LTE 2100, LTE 2600 (Fourth generation of cell phone communications standards. High data transfer rates make 4G networks suitable for use in USB wireless modems for laptops and even home internet access.)
In Australia
2G capabilities – GSM 900, GSM 1800 (Again, talk and text. Forget using data.)
3G capabilities – UMTS 850, UMTS 900, UMTS 2100 (Optus runs on 3G)
4G capabilities – LTE 1800, LTE 2300 (High data-transfer rates.)
Option #1: Use your Canadian Mobile Phone
Prefer to keep your current phone you say?  Sounds good. What do you need to do? Get it “unlocked.” If you don’t, you will be slammed with roaming charges, and roaming charges are bank account vampires. Unlock your phone by contacting your cell phone plan provider. It will cost approximately $50, but this is an estimate. Find out which frequency your phone uses and then match it to the Australian frequencies.
Next, buy a SIM card. One of the best value, flexible, pay-as-you-go SIMs available in Australia is with Amaysim, powered by the Optus 3G network, which is currently covering 97% of Australians! You can get a SIM card from other companies, but just be sure to check the carrier and the frequencies vs your phone’s frequencies.
Option #2: Buy a phone in Australia
There are five popular mobile phone companies across Australia, thus giving you plenty of options. You can track down great deals and even better phone rates. The disadvantage is that your Aussie phone may not work in Canada. If you’re travelling frequently between Canada and Australia, you’ll be left phoneless while in the Great White North.
Option #3: Buy your own phone in Canada online
If you purchase a quad-band, unlocked phone, then you’re in business. The quad-band can access the four frequencies used in both countries. Unlocked means you’re able to change the SIM card. When you’re in Australia, you’ll take out your Canadian SIM card, replace it with Australian SIM card (see option #1), therefore using a local number and calling rates.
Travelling often between the two countries, Matt Miernik has a quad-band unlocked phone, and says he loves the freedom of an unlocked phone. He purchased his phone on eBay, but before you do the same thing, ensure the phone is quad-band and unlocked.
Check out the following websites for more cell phone ideas and options!
eXpansys: http://www.expansys.ca/mobile-phones/sim-free-phones/
Fongo: http://www.fongo.com/
magicJack: http://www.magicjack.com/index.html

OzTREKK’s Pre-departure Prep

For OzTREKK students who are unable to attend an in-person pre-dep, you can still view an online webinar and get the important info you need before you leave for Australia. Even if you’ve been to an in-person seminar, or have watched it online, you are welcome to watch the presentation again!
OzTREKK Pre-departure Webinar
For students beginning Semester 1, 2015
Date: Wednesday, Nov. 26, 2014
Time: 6 – 9 p.m. (Ontario time; 3 p.m. BC)
Check the time in your location with the Time Zone Converter.
Be sure to contact your OzTREKK Admissions Officer for your webinar registration information.

Need more help figuring out your pre-departure needs? Not sure what to expect? Contact your OzTREKK Admissions Officer, and be sure to pop by the OzTREKK Boarding Pass for more before-you-go information! Email us at info@oztrekk.com or call toll free in Canada at 1-866-698-7355.