askST: How does new mobile operator Circles.Life compare with older telcos?

Reader James Lee wrote in to ask about new mobile operator Circles.Life. He wanted to know if it is better to subscribe to the operator's 26GB plan.

He also asked: "So Circles.Life is not really a traditional telco line like M1, Starhub, Singtel and it runs on VoIP? Is this good or is a traditional network better?"

Senior Tech correspondent Irene Tham answers.

Virtual mobile operator Circles.Life turned heads when it launched its new $20-for-20GB add-on plan last week. This essentially means that customers pay a total of $48 a month for a whopping 26GB of mobile data.

The short answer to whether Circles.Life's newly-launched plan is the best deal in town is: It depends on what you are looking for.

Commuters using their mobile phones in at MRT train. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Looking at similar SIM-only plans from the other three telcos - Singtel, StarHub and M1 - Circles.Life indeed has the cheapest plan for heavy users.

Here are the comparative plans:

1. StarHub's 4G 12 plan - which costs $110 a month for 12GB of mobile data, and unlimited outgoing calls and SMS/mms - can be upgraded to provide a total of 20GB of mobile data for $169.50 a month. Users are not tied to any contract. 

2. M1's mySIM+ 45 plan - which costs $45 a month for 8GB of mobile data, 400 mins of outgoing calls and 1,200 SMS/MMS - can be upgraded to provide a total of 20GB of mobile data for $62.70 a month. Users need to sign a 12-month contract.

3. Singtel, on the other hand, charges $73.50 a month for 23GB of mobile data. There is no talk-time or SMS unless users choose the add-on. The 1,200 SMS/MMS add-on costs $5.35 a month. The 200 mins outgoing call add-on also costs $5.35 a month. Users are not tied to any contract.

4. Circles.Life's $48 a month plan comes with 26GB of mobile data but there are no free incoming calls - unlike the other telcos. The plan comes with 100 mins of free outgoing and incoming calls. However, WhatsApp voice calls are free. Users are not tied to any contract.

At the end of the day, it really depends on what users are looking for. Customers who travel often and prefer not to make WhatsApp calls may find Singtel, StarHub and M1's roaming tie-ups more attractive.

The three telcos sell daily unlimited mobile data plans for roaming on their preferred partners' networks. The plans start from $15 a day, depending on destination.

Another option is M1's Data Passport service, which lets customers use their existing unused Singapore mobile data allowance while overseas - for a fee. The Data Passport service costs $10 a month per country, and is available in more than 40 countries including popular destinations such as Australia, Hong Kong and the United States. A $2 activation fee applies.

Another option is StarHub's DataTravel add-on service. Users can activate a 2GB bundle for a flat fee of $15, and use it across multiple destinations for 30 days. There is no additional activation or subscription fee.

Mr Lee had also wondered if being a virtual mobile operator has any impact on quality of service. The short answer is: It should not be any different since Circles.Life bought airtime in bulk from M1 instead of building its own physical mobile networks.