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Comparison of Irish iPhone contracts – 2010 -v- 2014

A few years ago, i published this post about how O2 reduced data allowance by over 90% on their cheapest bill pay plan for new customers. All this time later, my latest contract with them is finally up so this week i’m jumping ship to Three. Here’s why…

2010 -v- 2014

Firstly, it’s incredibly difficult to get accurate historical data from phone companies on their price plans. This was frustrating me even back in 2010… so i decided to start documenting price plans myself at the time. Below is a screenshot from the three website in 2010, which compares their price plans to O2 and Vodafone at the time…

iphone 4 price comparison

Notice how at that stage, ALL plans were offering 2GB of data. This is really important. You see back in 2010, everyone agreed mobile data growth was going to be exponential.. we were only going to use mobile data more and more as time went on. That’s still the case today. In 5 years time, I can guarantee you average data usage will have risen considerably, possibly many multiples of what it is today… the only thing that can possibly stop that happening is if people were to stop using smartphones and tablets.

Going a bit deeper in to this, you’ll never be able to compare price plans between networks and you won’t find a price plan on a network that existed in 2010 that you can still sign up to today. The rules change, the data changes, the minutes & texts change. Constantly. It’s deliberate and it makes comparisons between different operators difficult if not impossible for customers. I can’t categorically say that O2 are cheaper than Vodafone or vice versa. That’s great if you’re an operator because it gets you off the hook. If someone bashes you, there’s an immediate answer ready – “yes, our headline monthly rate is more expensive, but we offer 100 more minutes and 50 more texts than rival operator, so you’re comparing apples and oranges”. A technical get out of jail free card. The best kind. As time goes on, they continue to slither around, being very careful not to back themselves in to a corner. If for example an operator were to offer unlimited data, calls and texts for €40/month, that would be great for customers, but it would leave the operator vulnerable to a backlash if they ever wanted to restrict data or bump the price up – customers would notice it instantly and it would be too transparent for the operator’s liking.

I’ve got two problems with price plans in 2014:

  1. Rather than data caps increasing in size, they’ve actually been reduced significantly across most networks. I’m pretty sure the argument phone companies will have (or this would be my argument if i were trying to deflect criticism) is that caps needed to be lowered in order to ensure stability across the network for everyone… that sounds like a semi-reasonable excuse but that then leads to problem no.2…
  2. The cuts to data would be acceptable *if* the cost of plans were lowered to reflect the value of the plan. However, the costs have remained virtually the same across most networks and I’d argue they’ve actually increased. 24 month contracts are now the norm… back in 2010, 18 month contracts were the norm. So although the monthly price may have lowered by €5 on some networks, the contract duration increased by 6 months, actually increasing the overall cost paid to the network over the contract duration.

To put it very simply, customers are now getting less value for money than they were 4 years ago. This is why I’ve moved to Three from O2. I’m now paying €20.32/month with Three for unlimited data on a 30 day rolling contract. I was paying O2 €40.60 for 2GB data which I was locked in to for 18 months. Calls and texts are almost irrelevant to me as i never seem to use a fraction of the amount i’m allocated and i can’t see that changing in the future…

When it comes to upgrading or buying a new phone, that’s where the more expensive contracts make sense (sometimes). But i’m starting to think that from now on, it will actually be cheaper and smarter to buy an iPhone from Apple and stick to a sim-only plan on a short term contract. Unless of course all the networks introduce unlimited data without raising prices, but i’m fairly confident that won’t happen.

The comparison nobody wants you to make

You want to buy a new iPhone 5S and you’re prepared to spend maybe €300 up front and €30-40 per month on a contract. Let’s make a comparison across all networks to see who’s best value for money. There should be loads of asterisks in this because i’m not comparing like with like but like most people, i don’t like asterisks. I like direct comparisons and will go out of my way to make direct comparisons, even if it means simplifying things a bit…

iphone5s

So as we can see, Vodafone are the cheapest, but the best value in my opinion are Meteor who offer double the data Vodafone offer for just €8 extra. Three are the only network offering unlimited data so if you’re a heavy data user or don’t want to have to keep looking over your shoulder at data usage, they’re the smart option, particularly if you tie yourself in to a contract… don’t forget that in 12 or 18 months time, you’ll likely be using more data than you are today, especially if you live or work in a 4G area or will have 4G in your area in the future.

Finally, just to ram home the point i’m making, I’ll leave you with this comparison of O2’s cheapest iPhone 4 plan in 2010 and now with the 5S in 2014. You would think that as time goes on, we’d be getting more data and better value for money, but clearly that’s not the case…

iphone contract

Their cheapest plan has gotten about 13% more expensive over the course of the contract whilst data allowance has been reduced by 65%. Little old me won’t make a difference by switching but hopefully i’ll have opened more people’s eyes to what these phone companies get up to and why you can’t trust them. If your contract is up, shop around. If you’re a new customer, make sure you do the comparisons for yourself.

Sean MacEntee

Web Developer. Technology Addict. Swimmer. Man Utd Fan. Writer. Designer.