With most business now being done from home, telecoms deals are more important than ever. What is the best mobile deal? Is 5G a factor? And what are the long-term trends in mobile packages? Adrian Weckler looks at what the market has to offer at present.
Best deal: Red Unlimited Max Sim Only.
Cost: €45 per month on one-year contract (discounted to €35 for first six months).
Features: Unlimited 4G and 5G data with 'excessive use' cutoff; all data available when roaming in EU; unlimited calls and texts.
Other notable deals: Red Business Unlimited Max (€80 ex Vat per month on two-year contract with handset subsidy; unlimited 4G and 5G data with 'excessive use' cutoff, unlimited international calls and unlimited data roaming in US, Canada).
Strengths and weaknesses:
Vodafone has always traded on its claim to offer the strongest overall network quality. In general, this is a fair boast - it has dominated speed and reliability comparison tests over the last five years. But it has used this to charge more and to offer less monthly data than almost all of its competitors in that time.
With its new 'unlimited' offers, Vodafone has taken a very big step to close the gap on monthly data capacity - it has now joined other operators that offer 'unlimited' monthly data, albeit with some restrictions (Vodafone's version of a 'fair use' limit is an 'excessive use' limit, which its terms and conditions won't define). But once again, you'll pay a little more for it.
Vodafone's totem 'unlimited' deal costs €45 per month. That's more than three times the cost of the cheapest high-data package in the market (GoMo). Vodafone will say that its investment in its network makes the premium price worth it.
Given that it has remained the country's largest operator in recent years, it's reasonable to say that most of its customers don't disagree.
Vodafone also has a few frills that others don't. It will allow you to use all of your data when roaming in the EU, for example. On its high-end business package (€80 plus Vat), it also gives you unlimited roaming in the US and Canada, a serious attraction for any frequent travellers there.
One thing to watch for with its new unlimited plans is its approach to tethering (also called hotspotting). No operator likes this functionality because it threatens other mobile broadband products they have. Most have banned or discouraged it over the years.
But Vodafone says it won't stop you tethering your phone on its unlimited plans. So in a 5G area, this could mean a heck of a lot of connectivity if you needed to lean on it, unless the operator decides to lean in with its 'excessive' use proviso.
Best deal: Plus Sim Only.
Cost: €40 per month ex Vat.
Features: 60GB of data, after which fair usage restrictions apply; 23GB of roaming per month in the EU; 2GB of roaming in the US; 12-month contract.
Other noteworthy deals: Starter Sim Only (€25 per month ex Vat; 60GB data with fair use afterwards; 15GB EU roaming data; 12-month contract).
Strengths and weaknesses:
Three remains the biggest data network in the country, thanks to its early strategy of going big on monthly data allowances. This is still reflected in a majority of its plans.
Its network quality has also improved in recent years, although the amount of time and money it had to spend integrating the doddery O2 Ireland network it acquired has arguably been a distraction.
Three is still slightly cheaper than its main rival, Vodafone, across most of its packages. And it continues to have an overall data capacity advantage - you'll get more data on a typical Three plan than you will on a Vodafone plan.
However, Three is the only major network not to offer 5G yet. This isn't yet a major usability issue, partly because there are relatively few 5G phones for sale in the market to take advantage of the faster network. And other than higher speeds, there are also no clear cut usage models or services for 5G (unless you need to hotspot a 5G phone to give connectivity to other devices). But that will change later this year.
The real firing shot will come in September, when Apple will announce four new 5G-compatible iPhones.
History shows that when Apple gets on board with a new standard, it often flies much quicker. Three absolutely has to have a 5G network launched by then: if it doesn't, it risks being seen as the country's data and technology slowcoach rather than its traditional position in the Irish market as the data innovator (it crushed the market here for data allowances for years).
All of this is worth bearing in mind when considering whether to sign up now for a 24-month Three contract or not - the company may well introduce new 5G plans this summer, in which case you might miss any of its benefits for over a year.
Best deal: Business Mobile Connect Plus
Cost: €48 per month
Features: 80GB of 5G data, after which fair usage restrictions apply; 40GB of roaming per month in the EU; 1GB of roaming in the US; 24-month contract; handset subsidy
Other deals: GoMo (€13 per month, 80GB data plus fair use, 10GB EU roaming, all domestic calls and texts)
Strengths and weaknesses:
Of all the operators, Eir is currently the most aggressive in its pricing and expansion plans.
Its spinoff GoMo operator has an unmatched price offer for those who want a simple, no-frills service with a huge amount of data. But its business pricing is competitive, too, with a deal (above) that offers a hell of a lot for under €50.
Eir's main challenge is its network. It hasn't previously invested in it in similar depth to Vodafone and Three.
Its CEO has repeatedly stated that it is in third place from a mobile network coverage perspective and that it must invest hundreds of millions to rival the best.
The question is whether it will be able to do that while simultaneously splashing out hundreds of millions on a massive fibre-to-the-home upgrade schedule. So far, the company has put its money where its mouth is.
With most business now being done from home, telecoms deals are more important than ever.
What is the best mobile deal? Is 5G a factor? And what are the long-term trends in mobile packages? Adrian Weckler looks at what the market has to offer at present.