Note 1: This article was first published on 10th March 2017.
Note 2: Article has been updated with recalculated figures and recommendations on 2nd May 2017 to factor in StarHub's brand new DataJump data add-on option.
It's all about mobile data
The recent launch of Circles.Life new S$20 for 20GB add-on for their postpaid subscribers presents quite a curveball to price-sensitive phone users. At a glance, S$20 for 20GB seems affordable to many, but it doesn’t take into account that a mobile plan is only useful when you have a phone in the first place. Once we factor a smartphone’s cost into the equation, it’s less clear as to which telco actually provides the best alternative.
So we’ve set out to determine the most affordable way to attain ≥ 20GB mobile data allotment per month through each telco, and have it compared to Circles.Life’s total of 26GB per month at S$48/month (S$20/month add-on + S$28/month Base Plan).
However, every telco has their own add-on path to providing more than 20GB mobile data every month to their users. Otherwise, users would be paying S$10.70 per excess 1GB to telcos without these add-ons (Circles.Life offers an "Auto-Boost" function that charges S$1.00 for every excess 100MB data, and a manual "Boost" option that charges S$3.50 for every excess 500MB data).
Since the best way to attain 20GB or more mobile data per month differs between each service provider, we will work with the following rules below:-
This is a mobile data price plan comparison.
Our priority is to get 20GB or above every month, in the cheapest way possible.
SMS, outgoing talk-time, and other factors will only act as tie-breakers.
We position ourselves as a user who's looking for a favorable plan with a new smartphone. Essentially, a new user or someone looking for for a new contract once the prior contract has ended.
A plan for personal use and not for a family
Singtel, StarHub and M1 have several multi-user bundling offers that will lower the cost per person, but we're not considering those options as it will complicate matters.
Further to the above, some offers apply just for the mobile plan service, while others apply when you consider their entire home solution that will include other services like land line, mobile data dongle, pay-TV service, etc. The permutations are endless.
The phone in our example will be the iPhone 7 Plus (256GB). It has a retail price of S$1,588.
Total cost after 24 months also includes the cost of the smartphone after telco subsidies (if applicable).
Only permanent services and add-ons of each telco will be taken into account.
Got that? Let's begin.
Telco no.1: Singtel
*Datamore add-on comes with the following options at varying prices: 1GB, 2GB, 3GB, 4GB, 5GB, 8GB, 10GB, 20GB, 30GB, and 50GB. Singtel doesn't allow users to combine DataX2 with DataX3, but you can combine DataX2 or DataX3 with Datamore . DataX2 and DataX3 have a 24-month contract requirement; Datamore's contract is 12 months.
By virtue of cost per month, and overall cost, Singtel's best option for 20GB/month and above with a phone factored in would be Combo 6 - coming in at S$129.92 every month, ending off at S$3,636.08 when factoring the phone's cost.
All Singtel calculations do not factor in their S$5.35/month Caller ID service, nor does it factor in one-time charges/ sign-up charges. The subsidized phone prices are found in our price plan comparison piece.
Telco no.2: StarHub
Plus 3 (S$6.00)
*The monthly cost will be slightly higher when StarHub decides to reinstate the S$19.90 monthly fee for MaxMobile Premium, which has a 24-month contract requirement.
In essence, the 4G 3 package is the least expensive StarHub option if you intend to bump your data allotment up to 20GB. StarHub’s Plus 3 and Data Upsize add-ons offer only up to 3GB extra data. To get more, there are MaxMobile Value and MaxMobile Premium bundles.
StarHub's new DataJump add-on has made quite a positive impact to bring down the telco's overall data cost per GB consumed. Sadly, it doesn't apply to the lowest mobile plan tier, 4G 3, and is only eligible for a small upsize via the company's Plus 3 data add-on that provides 3GB for $3, before requiring to fork out the standard tariff per GB of data consumed.
That said, looking at the re-calculated figures we've rundown based on the new DataJump add-on, the best offer to meet this article's criteria is StarHub's 4G 6 plan. With DataJump, this plan nets you 21GB of mobile data that costs only S$112.90 per month. The total two-year cost of ownership of the iPhone 7 Plus is also amongst the lowest in this comparison at S$3,234.60.
Note that all StarHub calculations do not factor in their one-time charges/ sign-up charges.
(Update 10th March 2017): StarHub reached out to us. They said that MaxMobile is not available for their 4G mobile plans, and that we should factor in S$10.70 per GB to meet the 20GB comparison. As such, we've recalculated the offers with their Plus 3 add-on taken into account.
(Update 2nd May 2017): With StarHub's launch of DataJump on 29th April, we've recalculated StarHub's offerings for this feature article and updated the table above.
Telco no.3: M1
Upsized Data Super (S$17.70)
Upsized Data Super (S$17.70)
Upsized Data Super (S$17.70)
Upsized Data Super (S$17.70)
M1's best ≥20GB mobile data offer falls under their i-Max plan, with the cheapest possible outcome every month and over two years, after factoring in the phone's cost.
M1's Upsized Data add-ons are unique, and you can learn more about it here. As their bonus data bundles do not always offer a total of 20GB or more, it was necessary for some plans to factor in S$10.70 per GB to meet the 20GB comparison.
All M1 calculations do not factor in their S$5.35/month Caller ID service, nor does it factor in one-time charges/ sign-up charges.
Telcos no.4: Circles.Life
If you're still out of the loop, Circles.Life is a mobile virtual-network operator that started operations in May 2016. Earlier this week, they launched an add-on that gave 20GB mobile data at a price of S$20 to complement their S$28 per month Base Plan. This brings the total cost of the plan to S$48. The Base Plan comes with 6GB data (until December 2017 if you port your existing number, else it will be back to 4GB), unlimited WhatsApp Data (except for Video Calls), and free Caller ID service. The telco also employed a social way to gain subscribers by offering a permanent 200MB per-friend-per-month bonus to users who successfully recommend their friends to Circles.Life. The digital telco was also aggressive with their paid campaigns.
We will be comparing the S$48/month plan against the current 20GB/month alternatives available in the market. While Circles.Life does not bundle a smartphone into their offerings, we can always toss the cost of the iPhone 7 Plus (256GB) in, and work the numbers out below.
The moment of truth
We take the best offers from our Big Three, and pit it against Circles.Life S$20 for 20GB add-on that's applicable to their S$28/month Base Plan which already comes with 4GB to 6GB mobile data. That's a total monthly subscription of S$48. To level the playing field, we will include the S$1,558 official price of the iPhone 7 Plus (256GB) to Circles.Life's cost, since they do not bundle phones with their plans.
And the best plan for ≥20GB mobile data goes to...
Singtel's Combo 6 with DataX3 and Datamore
StarHub's 4G 6 with DataJump
M1's i-Max with Upsized Data Super
Circles.Life Base Plan with 20GB Data Plus
Congratulations on making it this far.
For smartphone users who rely heavily on mobile data, the Circles.Life alternative stands out as the most wallet-friendly option out there. Even after factoring the cost of the iPhone 7 Plus (256GB) into the equation, it is still cheaper on a monthly basis from its next best alternative. The Circles.Life Base Plan with S$20 Data Plus add-on would save the user at least S$667.80 at the end of two years. Another plus point? The plan will only cost S$48 every month, once the smartphone has been fully financed; its rivals still charge their full rates, even if you allow the contract to go beyond the 24-month mark.
For folks who rely equally on talk-time and mobile data, it's worth noting that Circles.Life offers a total of only 100 minutes across both incoming and outgoing calls. You can, however, add S$2/month to your bill for unlimited incoming calls.
For a little over S$21/month difference, StarHub's offer is the most compelling full service telco plan offering that nets you free incoming calls, 700 minutes of outgoing calls, free Caller ID and 21GB of mobile data. If you can stretch that up to nearly S$30/month, M1's equivalent plan offers even more outgoing calls, and more mobile data. Not to mention M1 has some of the best data roaming plans in the market (M1 Data Passport). So if you need a more all-round plan, StarHub and M1 have you covered.
That said, the advent of VoIP lets users call via data connection, although the Circles.Life plan would still be less friendly to folks who rely on traditional voice calls for work and personal matters - Circles.Life has yet to implement VoLTE into their services.
Smartphone users who travel frequently for work or leisure will find that Circles.Life's roaming data options a little underdeveloped at the moment, as the digital telco is still working on a viable plan for things outside of competitive mobile data prices. A viable workaround is to rent a portable Wi-Fi router at the airport for precious roaming data.
Oh and let's not forget that our big three telcos have several multi-line user discounts and the discount tiers do get steeper as you add more services that the telco offers beyond just a mobile plan. Those are very much out of the scope for this article and the comparisons are endless. If you need a family plan, do calculate what the established players have to offer and consider adding other services like a land line, pay-TV, etc. for a better discount on a per user's mobile plan cost.
Despite the differences, having a new player on the scene helps to revitalize the competition in a good way, and it's the users who stand to gain as we move forward.
If you want to know more about Circles.Life, you can check out our previous reports: