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The definitions below should be read in the context of mobile phones, mobile phone technology and mobile phone services. Terms may have a broader meaning when applied outside of this context.



Your ‘network’ or the wireless pathway used to deliver data like calls or text to your mobile phone over the internet.

2G came before 3G and 4G and is much slower than those networks. It is suitable for basic services like calls and text. Videos and large downloads will be slow.

Some phone companies only use the 2G network.



Your ‘network’ or the wireless pathway used to deliver data like pictures, video and sound to your mobile phone over the internet.

3G was developed after 2G. It introduced faster data speeds so that you could browse the internet on your mobile.



Your ‘network’ or the wireless pathway that is used to deliver data like pictures, video and sound to your mobile phone over the internet.

4G is the most up-to-date technology and was developed after 3G. It introduced new data speeds so that you could connect and browse the internet much faster than any other network.


$0 Upfront

‘$0 Upfront’ means that on the day you sign up to a post-paid service (plan) you don’t have to pay anything at first and you will pay for the phone and the plan after you have received your first phone bill and every month after that until your plan ends.


Bill Shock

When you get a bill that is more expensive than you expected


Billing cycle

The time between the day you get your monthly phone credit until the same day next month when you receive new credit.

E.g. If you are on a mobile plan which gives you $200 per month worth of calls and text you will be able to use this from the same day each month. If the day you get access to your $200 monthly allowance is the 15th of every month, then January 15 to February 15 will be one cycle.



A wireless connection that allows your phone to connect to other electronic equipment like wireless headphones, earpieces, hands-free car kits, and other mobile phones.


BYO Plan / Sim-only Plan

A BYO Plan or Sim-only Plan is a plan where you use your own mobile and only pay for the services provided (e.g. $200 worth of talk and text).

You do not get a new mobile with these plans. Some BYO plans are month to month. This means that you can cancel at any time but will always have to pay for what you use before you cancel. Other BYO plans have a contract term (e.g. 12 months or 24 months). This means that if you want to cancel your contract you will have to pay Early Termination Charges.


Call allowance

The amount of money you’re allowed to spend on calls each month on your plan. If you use more than this amount, you will have to pay extra on top of your plan.


Carriage Service Provider (CSP)

A company that supplies phone and internet services



The amount of money that the mobile company requires you to pay when you use the company’s services.



The document you sign with a service provider that sets out the terms and conditions of your plan that both you and the service provider have to follow.


Cooling off period

The amount of time you have to change your mind and cancel your contract without having to pay fees after you sign a contract. You usually only get a cooling off period if you buy a phone plan from a sales person who has knocked on your door, or who has called you on the phone (a telemarketer).


Connection fee

Every time you make a call, there is a standard connection fee (e.g. 40 cents) that you have to pay. It doesn’t matter how short or long the call is, you still have to pay this connection fee.


Critical Information Summary (CIS)

It tells you what you need to know about a mobile service.

The CIS must include:

* a description of the service or product with details like what is included and what is extra

* pricing information, such as minimum and maximum charges

* how much you will have to pay if you end a contract early

* how to contact customer service.

The CIS won’t tell you everything you need to know. You will need more information like warranties, billing and payment arrangements, call/text/data charges if you go overseas, and what data allowance is best for you.



Data is what you use whenever you use the internet on your mobile and you’re not using wifi.


Data allowance/ mobile data

This is the amount of internet data you have included in your plan (e.g. 500MB or 1GB).

This data allowance includes both downloading and uploading data (e.g. sending and receiving emails).

If you use more than your data allowance, you will be charged extra for excess data or your internet access will be slowed.


Data Value Add

An option to add more data to your monthly allowance. This option is often available month-to-month.


Direct debit

A way to pay your monthly phone bill by giving the phone company your bank account number or your credit card details so that at the end of each month, the phone company will automatically take the money out of your bank account or credit card.



You download data when you receive information on your phone like emails, Facebook posts, watch videos, listen to new music and surf the net.


Early termination charge (ETC)/ Early exit fee/ Cancellation fee

The ETC is the amount you have to pay if you want to cancel your contract early before the contract comes to an end. For example, if you want to cancel the contract after 1 year BUT the contract is for a 2 year period.

The ETC will usually cost the total number of months left on your contract times your minimum monthly cost (e.g. 12months x $49 plan = $588)


Excess data

Any extra data that you use once you have used up all of your data allowance. If you go over your monthly data allowance, you will be charged for the data you use over your allowance.

This can be very expensive. Make sure you keep track of your usage so you don’t go over and upgrade to a higher usage if you need it.



Every time you make a call, there is a standard connection fee (e.g. 40cents) that you have to pay.

It doesn’t matter how short or long the call is - you still have to pay this connection fee. 



Someone who agrees to pay for your fees, bills and costs if you can’t or won’t. If you don’t pay your bills, your guarantor is responsible for the consequences.



The Goods and Services Tax is a tax that you have to pay on top of the cost of your mobile services. It is 10%. But the costs that you are told about by your phone company should already include GST.


Handset instalment

This is the cost of the mobile phone that you have to pay for each month. This cost is on top of your monthly plan cost. When you first sign up to a contract, make sure you know if you have to pay handset instalments.


Hard cap

If you have a hard cap, this is the most you’ll have to pay for your usage; you will not have to pay more than this.

Many mobile phone plans used to be called ‘caps’ (e.g. a ‘$29 Cap’). Here, ‘cap’ didn’t mean a hard cap, it meant your minimum monthly spend. Because this was confusing for customers, phone companies are not allowed to use the word ‘cap’ anymore unless they are talking about a hard cap.



A fee charged by your phone company. Instead of paying something (like a phone bill or a debt) in full all at once, you might pay it over a longer period of time. In exchange for letting you have longer to pay the full amount, companies might ask you to pay a percentage of the full cost on top of what you owe. That percentage is called interest.

If something is ‘interest free’ it means there is no extra cost on top of what you owe.


Interest free

See ‘Interest’


International Roaming

International roaming lets you use your mobile overseas with your service provider. You will be charged at a higher rate depending on which country you are in.

The charges are on top of your plan and can be very expensive. You may also be charged for receiving calls while you are overseas.

Make sure you turn off international roaming on your mobile phone settings if you go overseas and don’t want to use it.


Late fee

A fee you have to pay because you didn’t pay your bill on time



When you are responsible for something under law


Locked phones

Most phones are locked to the service provider you buy the phone from. For example, if you buy an Optus mobile, you may only be able to use an Optus card with it and you are ‘locked’ to the Optus SIM network.

If you sign up for a plan with a mobile, generally it will be free to unlock your phone if you contact your service provider. Sometimes you have to pay a fee to unlock the mobile, especially if you buy a pre-paid phone. If a contract says you can’t unlock your phone you could be breaching your contract if you do, so it’s important that you check with your service provider first.


Minimum monthly spend

Your minimum monthly spend is the minimum monthly cost you will pay every month. This includes the cost of your plan plus your monthly handset instalment (if this applies).

E.g. $49 plan + $10 (handset instalment) = $59


Minimum term

The shortest amount of time you have to stay with your contract. You can usually cancel at any time but there is almost always a cost involved (see Early Termination Charge)



MMS stands for Multimedia Messaging Service. MMS is used to send photos, pictures and sounds to other phones.



Services (like calls) that are not made or received during the busiest part of the day. These calls are sometimes cheaper than calls made during ‘peak’ times because there are less people using the network at the same time.



Services (like calls) made or received during the busiest part of the day. These calls may be more expensive than making a call during ‘off-peak’ times because there are more people using the network at the same time.


Post-Paid Service

A post-paid service refers to a mobile contract you sign up for. You will be charged on a month to month basis for your usage. 

If you use more than your monthly allowance, your phone will still work, but you will be charged extra for all additional calls, texts and data.


Pre-Paid Service

A pre-paid service is a service where you ‘pay as you go’. You will pay in advance a certain amount of credit or usage.

Once you have finished your credit – you will no longer have access to the service until you recharge and buy more credit.


Premium SMS

A service that allows you to send a text to a number to sign up to receive things like horoscopes, games, or ringtones via SMS. It costs money to receive horoscopes, games and ringtones by SMS – the service is NOT free.


Pro-rata basis

Pro-rata basis means that your bill will be calculated based on the actual number of days that you used your service in a particular month.

For example, if you sign up to a contract in the middle of a month - you will only have to pay for the month’s remaining days (and not for the whole month).



Roaming is where you use your mobile outside your service provider’s network coverage. This can often happen if you are on Optus or Vodafone and go to rural areas.

It may be free to receive calls however usually you will be charged more for calling and using the internet. Roaming charges for the use of internet outside your network coverage is usually charged on top of your plan.


Roll over

When you don’t use all of your monthly allowance in a particular month, the amount left over is sometimes added or ‘rolled over’ to next month’s allowance.

For example, if you have a monthly allowance of $200 and you only use $100, some network providers will add the $100 you didn’t spend to next month’s allowance. That would mean that you’d have $300 to spend the next month.

Note: Most network providers do not provide roll-over services. You should ask your service provider about this before you sign up.



Any service that you buy from a mobile service provider. This includes calls, texts and data services that may come with a mobile phone plan.



Also known as a ‘text’, an SMS is a short word message with a maximum of 160 characters sent from one mobile to another.


Spend Monitoring Tools

Ways of finding out how much of your monthly allowance you’ve used. Your phone company MUST give you a way of keeping track of your usage.



A landline phone, mobile phone or internet service company.Tel-co is a combination of the words ‘telecommunications’ and ‘company’.



Cancelling your contract


‘Unlimited’ text

A service that allows you to send as many texts as you like without being charged extra on top of your plan or without topping up your pre-paid.



Buying or signing a new contract to receive a more expensive or newer phone. Upgrades can also mean signing on to a new plan which allows you a bigger monthly allowance than you had before.

You can usually upgrade your plan at any time during your contract if your monthly allowance isn’t enough for you.



To upload means to send data from your phone to the network, such as sending an email from your phone or posting a photo on Facebook.

Uploading requires data usage and is the opposite of downloading.


Warranty Repairs

Warranty repairs is when a service provider offers to fix or replace your mobile phone for free if it is not working properly. It is only available within a specific timeframe (e.g. 12 months) and might not be available for all types of damage.

Some warranties do not cover liquid damage (if your drop your phone in water) or physical damage (if you drop your phone and smash the screen) so make sure you find out exactly what your warranty covers.