Are subsidised phone plans worth getting compared to SIM-only plans in 2021?

PHOTO: Pexels

By now, most of us already know that SIM-Only plans are cheaper compared to subsidised phone plans. This is logical since SIM-only plans do not provide any phone subsidies, which means they can offer a lower monthly cost.

Yet, if getting a SIM-only plan is such a no-brainer, why do subsidised phone plan or contract plans continue to exist and why do people still continue to subscribe to them? After all, Singaporeans are well-known to seek the best value out of everything.

To answer this, we compare subsidised phone plans to SIM-only and find out which has better value.

1. SIM-only plans are cheaper (obviously)

By not providing any phone subsidies, SIM-only plans are cheaper. For example, M1, which allows customers to customise their phone plans (they call it Bespoke), gives you 30GB of data, 100 mins of free talktime and 100 free SMS for $24.95 with their SIM-only plan.

Do note this price excludes any promotions that they are offering.

At the point of writing, do note that there is a $5 off for the first 12 months, which reduces the price to $19.95 each month. It also gives an additional 10GB of data. For comparison in this article, we are not taking into consideration the promotion. This is a no-contract plan.


If you choose to get a similar plan ( Bespoke Flexi ) with M1 that comes with an iPhone 12 (256GB), you pay $146.78 a month over 12 months. Obviously, you are paying more each month because the plan comes with the iPhone 12.

If you are not looking to get a new phone, you should be choosing a SIM Only plan because it gives you the cheapest possible plan. But you already know this even before reading this article.

But what if you do need a new phone? In this case, would it be better to get a SIM Only plan and buy a new phone separately? Or should you get your new phone via your telco provider?

Getting a new phone via your telco provider

Without taking into consideration any promotion, the difference in monthly telco fee from the M1 example between 1) a plan with a phone (iPhone 12, 256GB) and 2) a SIM only plan is $121.83 ($146.78 vs $24.95). Over a 12-month payment period, this adds up to $1,461.96.

If you buy an iPhone 12 256B directly from Apple, it will cost you $1,539. So getting the iPhone 12 (256G) via M1 will be cheaper. Also, you don’t need to make any upfront payment.

Even after taking into consideration that the M1 SIM-Only plan currently has a promotion that offers $5 off for the first 12 months, the difference over a 12-month period between a plan with phone and a SIM Only plan is $1,521.96, still marginally lower than buying the iPhone 12 (256GB) directly from Apple.

What if you opt for a 24-month plan?

While no-contract plans are ideal if you are the kind that likes to switch telco often depending on who offers the best deals, many of us wouldn’t mind sticking to one telco as long as we are getting good service at a reasonable price.

So, if you are the sort that doesn’t mind a traditional 24-month plan and wants a new phone, will you be getting a better deal through the telcos?

M1 2 years BeSpoke contract doesn’t give us a 30GB plan. Instead, it offers a base 20GB plan that comes with 200mins of talktime and 200 SMS which costs $50.95 each month.

To get an iPhone 12 (256GB), you will also need to pay an upfront amount of $832.


Since an iPhone 12 (256GB) costs $1,539 from Apple, this means the phone subsidy that we are getting is $707.

However, we are also paying $50.95 each month for our plan as opposed to $24.95 (before discount) each month for our SIM only plan, or about $26 more each month. Over a 24-month contract period, this adds up to $624. So while it’s still lower than the subsidy that we initially received, the difference of $83 isn’t significant.

Do note, the plan gives us 10GB less data but 100mins and 100 SMS more as compared to the SIM-only plan.

Circles.Life is well known for its SIM only plan so we want to find out if we will get a similar result.

PHOTO: Circles.Life

With Circles.Life, you pay $18 per month for 20GB and 100 mins talktime if you are switching from an existing telco. There is no contract. Do note, you have to pay $2 more each month for unlimited incoming calls.

Circles.Life also offers a plan with phone . If we choose the same iPhone 12 (256GB), we pay $86 per month, or about $68 more each month compared to the SIM-only plan.

PHOTO: Circles.Life

Surprisingly, at $68 more each month, you will be paying $1,632 over 24 months. With this amount, you would have been better off buying the iPhone 12 (256GB) on your own from Apple, and signing for the no-contract SIM Only plan with Circles.Life.

Unlike two years ago where telcos were offering subsidise phone plans that were almost too good to ignore , it appears to us that phone subsidies are a lot less attractive in 2021.

So, if you do not need a new phone or would prefer to wait for newer models, it might make financial sense to sign up for a SIM-only plan without any contract for now.

This article was first published in Dollars and Sense.