When it comes to choosing a mobile phone network provider for your Big Lap around Australia, you really only have two options - Telstra or Optus.
Both networks have solid coverage across the populated regions of Australia but with the vast majority of the continent UNpopulated, which one will give you the most coverage as you travel around Australia, Telstra or Optus?
Telstra is the biggest mobile provider in Australia by a long shot and only a few years ago there was no decision to make when choosing a mobile provider for your trip around Australia.
Telstra’s network stretched so much wider than its competitors Optus and Vodaphone.
However times are changing.
Optus is on a mission to bridge the gap and has been adding phone towers in remote towns and communities where Telstra isn’t already established.
On a recent road trip from Melbourne to the East Kimberly and back, I was surprised at how far Optus had extended its reach in the outback.
I was carrying two phones with one on Telstra and the other on Optus and heading up through outback South Australia I had no Telstra coverage at all between Leigh Creek and Erldunda Roadhouse around 1000km north.
Along the way however I had Optus coverage in Marree, Coward Springs, William Creek, Oodnadatta and Kulgera.
Great to see!
While it’s nice to get away from phone range and enjoy the ’serenity’ of being truly untethered, the reality for most of us is that maintaining a connection to the outside world is a reality of life these days.
Satellite phones definitely fill the gap where mobile networks don’t but even if you have a satellite phone, you’ll still want to use your Telstra or Optus mobile wherever possible as it is substantially cheaper.
So which network has the best coverage, Telstra or Optus?
Optus claims to reach 98.5% of the population however when you look at their coverage on the map it’s easy to see how the actual majority of the country is not covered.
Telstra claims to reach more than 99% of the population and when you look at their coverage map compared with Optus above you can see they have a wider reach in the regional areas but there are still massive gaps that you will be travelling through.
So on the strength of overall coverage alone, you would choose Telstra over Optus . . . BUT . . .
Phone plans are not as expensive as they were just a few short years ago.
Today you don’t need to choose one or the other because for around $10.00 to $15.00 per month extra, you can have BOTH.
If your main phone plan is using the Telstra Network (like mine is) all you need to do is buy a cheap 'SIM only' plan that uses the Optus 4G network from someone like Amaysim or Southern Phone.
I put the Optus 4G SIM in my old iPhone 6 and carry it as a spare but even without a second phone, you can still just keep the SIM card somewhere safe and swap it with your Telstra SIM in your phone if you need to.
With my spare Optus 4G SIM I get unlimited calls and text messages in Australia and 1gb of data per month - enough to check emails and some light web browsing.
I just keep the iPhone 6 charged and stored away in my kit so I can grab it out when I need it.
It came in very handy heading up through Outback SA last year!
I now have coverage on BOTH networks so the best of both worlds and a good insurance policy if I get stuck.
If you’re a couple or a family you could potentially have one phone on one network and the other phone on the other network.
This gives you both unlimited calls a text messages, coverage on both networks and a reasonably low overall cost per month.
Have a satellite communications backup
The reality is that despite their claims of covering 98% or more of the population there are still vast areas of the country not covered by any mobile phone networks, so you need to have some sort of satellite communications backup.
It can be a satellite phone which is the most versatile but most expensive option.
But for simple low cost peace of mind, and the ability to send an SOS distress signal from anywhere, there are a number of satellite communication options available.
As a minimum, regardless of what other devices you have, I recommend you carry a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) like the KTI PLB with 10 year battery life, no maintenance and no subscription cost.
A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) can send a distress signal to emergency services from anywhere on earth so you have 100% coverage across Australia. The signal it transmits is also stronger than a satellite phone and more likely to ‘punch through’ tree coverage and overcast skies.
With no running cost or subscription required, keep a PLB in your glovebox maintenance free for up to 10 years and it will be available to get help if you find yourself in a serious situation out of phone range.
It’s also light enough to throw in your back pack when you hit the trails.
At under $300, a PLB is cheap insurance in case something goes wrong!
Stepping up from a PLB, a Spot Gen 3 Satellite Messenger will also give you 100% coverage across Australia in case of emergency but also has more day to day functionality.
A Spot Gen 3 does require a subscription so will ultimately cost more to own but it gives you more features including the ability to send your location on a regular basis so your family and friends can follow your journey online and it can also send pre-defined messages like 'MADE IT TO CAMP OKAY'.
The Spot Gen 3 is only a one way communicator so you won't receive any messages back, but it can send an SOS distress signal if you're in trouble so emergency services can be notified.
If you want two way satellite communication then take a look at the new Spot X 2-Way Satellite Messenger which will enable you to have an SMS conversation with anyone from anywhere.
The unit comes with a US phone number so people can send you text messages and it also has Bluetooth to connect to your mobile phone and access your contacts.
Like the Spot Gen-3, the Spot X 2-Way requires a subscription so will have a higher ongoing cost than a PLB but also provide more functionality for you money.
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