When it comes to choosing the best plan for your individual needs, cost is usually the main consideration, but there are a few other things that you'll want to consider. Here are 10 important factors to keep in mind when making your choice.
1. Data allowance
After cost, this is probably the biggest factor to consider when choosing a mobile plan.
Whether it’s sending emails, uploading photos to Instagram, updating our status on Facebook, downloading music and browsing the web, we’re constantly using data on our phones these days.
For most people, 15GB a month should be more than enough. However, depending on how you use your phone, you could need more.
If you’re unsure how much data you need, then have a quick look over previous bills to see how much you’re consuming on average each month or simply call your existing provider and ask them. Alternatively, have a look at this guide to determine how much data you need.
Of course many plans now come with ‘unlimited’ data, meaning you can, in theory, browse to your heart’s content. But even here you need to be mindful of limits...which brings us on to our next point...
2. Fair usage policy
You’d think ‘unlimited calls, texts and data’ each month would mean just that, right? Unlimited. With no limits or strings attached.
However in the bizarre world of telecommunications advertising, mobile and broadband providers seem to be able to say whatever they want in their ads really. Because in most cases, ‘unlimited’ data doesn’t mean unlimited at all, as it’ll be subject to a so-called ‘fair usage’ cap.
In fairness, for the vast majority of people, the fair usage cap on most plans will be way above their needs. But it’s still important you know what it is so that you don’t go over it.
With some plans, if you exceed your fair usage data allowance you’ll be charged for every MB of data you use. Which can quickly add up. With others, you won’t be charged however your speed will be significantly slowed down by your provider.
Fair usage limits also apply to ‘unlimited calls and texts‘ deals so check the T&Cs before signing up to any plan so that you’re not caught short.
3. EU roaming allowance
The days of racking up big roaming fees when you travel abroad to Europe for some summer sun are thankfully pretty much over.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to be mindful of your data usage.
With most providers there are also fair usage limits on how much data you can use while roaming in the EU - and while generous - they’re significantly below the usage allowed back at home.
For example, GoMo has a data limit of 120GB per month, but only 10GB of this can be used in the EU.
Virgin Mobile’s Unlimited SIM-only plan comes with unlimited data but only 13.6GB of this can be used in the EU each month.
Vodafone is the only provider at present which offers truly unlimited roaming in the EU.
4. Download speeds
On most 4G plans you can get download speeds of up to 20 to 40Mbps on average, though speeds will be slower depending on time of day and the quality of the network you’re on.
However some of the cheaper plans have much slower speeds.
For example Vodafone’s Unlimited Lite billpay plan for €40 a month has a max download speed of 10Mbps while Clear Mobile’s SIM-only plan for €12.99 a month has a max speed of just 5Mbps.
If you’re using your phone for only basic tasks then 5Mpbs will just about be OK. However if you like to stream lots of music and video and upload high-quality pics to Instagram, then you’re going to want speeds that can reach well above 10Mbps.
5. 4G versus 5G
5G is the new buzzword in telecommunications these days. The main benefit of 5G is that it can reach speeds that are up to 10 times quicker than 4G.
However some providers, such as 3, will charge you extra if you want access to 5G while coverage outside the main towns and cities is still very patchy, if existent at all.
5G-enabled phones still aren’t that widely available either. It’s improving all the time of course but for now 4G speeds will more than suffice for most people.
Note that only Vodafone, 3 and Eir offer 5G services at present. All the other providers e.g. GoMo, Clear Mobile, Tesco Mobile, Virgin Mobile etc only offer 4G plans at present.
While only three providers are currently offering 5G services, there are still plenty of deals to choose from, meaning that you’ll have lots of options if you want to go down the 5G route. To learn more about these deals have a look at our blog on 5G mobile plans.
6. Network coverage
There's no point signing up for a mobile plan, however cheap, if the coverage in your area is poor.
Vodafone’s coverage is usually regarded as the most reliable and extensive but it really depends on where you live and whether you want 4G or 5G.
ComReg’s outdoor mobile coverage map is a good tool for consumers to see how all the operators compare in a particular area.
Be aware that Clear Mobile, An Post, Virgin Mobile, Lyca, 48, GoMo and Tesco Mobile are all Mobile Virtual Network Operators so their coverage will generally be the same as the operator network they’re running on.
Clear Mobile and An Post Mobile are with Vodafone, GoMo is with Eir, while all the others piggyback off 3’s network.
If you want to know more check out our article on coverage and data speeds.
7. Billpay, versus prepay versus SIM-only
If you need a new phone then a billpay contract might seem like the easiest solution.
However with billpay plans you’re also paying for the cost of a handset so these plans will usually be way more expensive than a SIM-only plan, where you purchase just a SIM card, which comes with an allocation of data, texts and minutes per month.
Depending on the phone you have chosen and the plan you signed up to, you’re often looking at paying around €40 to €60 a month on a billpay plan. If not more. But once your contract has come to a finish, and you’ve paid off your phone, which is usually after 24 months, unless you want to upgrade to a new phone and commit to a new billpay contract, you’d be crazy not to look at a SIM-only plan, even just for a year perhaps as these plans start from as little as €5 a month.
If you do want to go with a billpay plan, the more you can pay upfront for your phone the better. For example a 128GB iPhone 12 with Vodafone is currently free on its €80 a month deal. However this works out at €1,920 over the 24-month contract.
If you can stump up €299 to contribute towards the handset, you can choose its €60 a month deal instead, which works out at €1,740 - or €180 cheaper.
For those who are looking to find out more about SIM-only plans, we recently assessed the best SIM-only deals available in Ireland here. We also took a closer look at the range of SIM-only plans on offer in this episode of our bonkers.ie podcast.
8. Contract length
Most billpay contracts these days last two years - so if you don’t want to commit to a period this long, consider a SIM-only deal or a pay-as-you-go plan instead, which are all pretty much contract-free.
However with SIM-only and pay-as-you-go plans you need to stump up the full cost of the handsets yourself, which is easier said than done with some of the newer smartphones admittedly.
9. Customer service
It’s also a good idea to check out the customer service credentials of your mobile provider to make sure they’re up to scratch.
How can you do this?
The Commission for Communications Regulation (ComReg) issues a quarterly report on the customer service record of the main telecommunication companies in Ireland, which is available on its website. The report compiles complaints and issues raised by customers and investigates what complaints, if any, were justified and how many were resolved.
Taking even a cursory glance at the latest report will help to give you a good idea of which providers offer good service, as well as those which may have problems in resolving and dealing with genuine complaints and issues.
If you’re someone who values quality customer service over cheap deals it’s definitely worthwhile to do a little research in this area before making the switch.
Also, bear in mind that some of the newer SIM-only providers such as GoMo and Clear Mobile only offer online support.
10. International calls and texts
Between Skype, Zoom, iMessages and WhatsApp, there’s usually a way to get around paying extra for international calls and texts as long as you still have data.
However if you’d like the convenience of being able to make a quick call to a friend or colleague abroad just using your phone, then you might want to consider deals that come with international calls and texts.
For example, Vodafone’s SIM-only deals, although expensive, come with international calls and texts to select countries as do some of Tesco Mobile’s plans.
Explore your options
Are you looking for a new mobile phone plan? Out of all the points mentioned above, which one matters most to you? We’d love to know in the comments below!
Deciding on a plan is often overwhelming as there is an abundance of choice out there. Make sure you shop around and explore all options available to you!
Use our free comparison tool to compare mobile phone, broadband and TV deals in your local area to find a deal that best suits your needs.