Note: started writing this in late September… and unfortunately only got around to completing it in November

It’s September again, and aside for last year’s pandemic-caused disruption to Apple’s regular schedule, it’s iPhone season.

This time each year, I have to play this game with Singtel/Apple and it’s starting to get annoying, and I want to move to SIM-only plans. They raise prices almost every year it seems, and I’m a little fed up.

In this article I’m pondering out loud what exactly I should do moving forward, and I think it’s going to be useful for you if you are also considering a similar move. It should roughly translate with similar plans from M1 or Starhub too.

If you are just getting one line for yourself, I think it’s pretty safe to rule out contract plans. The total cost of ownership is pretty high, even if you can get a corporate discount of 20% to 30%. SIM-free plans are very cheap now and tend to provide more data even.

Note that I included $5.35 per month for Caller ID into the Singtel plans because it is simply silly that it’s not included by Singtel.

If you want a new phone

For basic users

There are $5 plans now! For comparison’s sake I also added $10 plans.

PlanTotal Cost in 2 YearsiPhone 13 Pro Max 256GB PriceTotal Cost
Combo 2$1,326$1,388 (Singtel)$2,714
Combo 2 (30% discount)$966.72$1,388 (Singtel)$2,354.72
$5 SIM-only$120$1,969 (Apple)$2,089
$10 SIM-only$240$1,969 (Apple)$2,209

For more data-hungry users

If you need more data, like most people do now, XO Plus 68 gives you a respectable 30GB. A comparable SIM-only plan is about $18 from Circles.life, though that does only get you 20GB of data

PlanTotal Cost in 2 YearsiPhone 13 Pro Max 256GB PriceTotal Cost
XO Plus 68$1,760.4$1,178 (Singtel)$2,938.40
XO Plus 68 (20% discount)$1,434$1,178 (Singtel)$2,612
$18 SIM-free$432$1,969 (Apple)$2,401

XO Plus 68 makes sense if you are able to get a 20% discount on it, and if you use more than 20GB on a regular basis. Otherwise, the $18

Seth
Seth

Score easy $35 with Singlife Grow. No lock-in period and you can withdraw anytime without penalty!

If you don’t want a new phone

SIM-only also shines if you don’t want to upgrade your phone. And with the prices of phones these days, it’s a pretty common occurrence. I used to be a yearly upgrader… until Apple started high prices with their iPhone X series. I don’t even feel inclined to upgrade every 2 years now.

However, if you don’t recontract but still stick to the telco, you pay the full price of the plan which is inflated to factor in the subsidised price of the phone. Shift to a SIM-only plan, or at the very least recontract and sell the iPhone.

Below, I calculate the “profit” by taking the difference of Singtel’s subsidised iPhone 13 Pro Max 256GB and $1,920, roughly the going rate of that model when you resell it. This year, higher capacities command higher resale values, but 512GB and 1TB models are very scarce.

PlanTotal Cost in 2 Years“Profit” From Selling PhoneTotal CostMonthly Cost
Combo 2$1,326$532$794$33.08
Combo 2 (30% discount)$966.72$532$434.72$18.11
$5 SIM-only$120N/A$120$5
$10 SIM-only$240N/A$240$10
PlanTotal Cost in 2 Years“Profit” From Selling PhoneTotal CostMonthly Cost
XO Plus 68$1,760.4$742$1,018.40$42.43
XO Plus 68 (20% discount)$1,434$742$692$28.83
$18 SIM-free$432N/A$432$18

Even with such a strategy, contract plans fall behind. Worse: you have the added burden of having to recontract your plan, get the iPhone, then resell it, which is basically my annual September hell. I use “profit” in quote marks because you aren’t really making money here.

My family plan

I use quite a bit of data while my family members don’t use, which is why I got Combo 12 for myself, and Combo 2 for the rest. I also subscribed to Singtel’s broadband and mioTV so that I can be on Singtel Circle which gives 30% discount on all 5 Combo plans. It also allows you to nominate a keyline which allows you to recontract yearly

PlanCostDiscountedWhat do I get
Combo 12$239.90
+ $15 (10GB)
$167.93
+ $15
Unlimited calls
Unlimited texts
12 GB + 10GB
Caller ID
Combo 2$49.90
+ $5.35 (Caller ID)
$34.93
+ $5.35
200 minutes
1,000 texts
2 GB Data
Caller ID

In the past when iPhones were very stock constrained and only available in certain countries during their launch, it made a lot of sense to go with Singtel. It got iPhone stock ahead of retailers, and I could thus resell the iPhones for high enough that my plans were practically free. iPhones used to go for a few hundred dollars above their retail price easily.

Times have changed since a few years ago. iPhones are sold in many countries at launch now, taking away much of the resale market from neighbouring countries. This year the best models to resell fetch about 3% under Apple’s official retail price.

My plans are starting to cost me money, and I don’t like it.

My Combo 12My Combo 2 (keyline)Each Combo 2
I pay
  • $2,195.16 for 12 months

  • $158 for iPhone 13 Pro Max 256GB

  • $500 early recontract fee
  • $483.36 for 12 months

  • $1,388 for iPhone 13 Pro Max 256GB

  • $500 early recontract fee
  • $966.72 for 12 months

  • $1,388 for iPhone 13 Pro Max 256GB

  • $500 early recontract fee
  • I get
  • $120 Prestige voucher

  • $500 yearly handset upgrade voucher

  • Sell iPhone for $1,920


  • $350 yearly handset upgrade discount

  • Sell iPhone for $1,920
  • Sell iPhone for $1,920
  • Monthly Cost (after selling the phone)$26.10$8.45$18.11 x 3 lines
    Comparable SIM-only plan$18$5$5
    Premium for Singtel$8.10$3.45$13.11 x 3 lines

    Across my mobile plans, I am paying $50.88 ($8.10 + $3.45 + $13.11 x 3) per month more than if I had picked SIM-only. That translates into $610.56 yearly, which means I’m paying Singtel the cost of an iPhone mini every two years 🥲 On top of that, I have to pay $23.90 for the Singtel TV thing that nobody watches. Mother has confirmed that she does indeed watch the Singtel TV thingy voraciously, so at least that’s not a waste.

    The worst part of this all is that I have to spend time and effort to jostle with thousands of iPhone upgraders each year to book and collect the phones, and stocks tend to be severely limited especially for the ones that fetch the best resale value. All this trouble and hassle only to still be paying more for my phone plans? Ugh.

    Escaping from Singtel

    Unfortunately, it’s not as straightforward as just letting my contract expire and then switching. You see, the above calculation is based on recontracting the Combo 12 and keyline every year to take advantage of phone subsidies to reduce my monthly subscription cost. Without the phone to resell, I have to pay the full (well, discounted but still inflated) monthly subscription of $182.93 for my Combo 12, and $40.28 for the Combo 2 for the second year.

    Comparable SIM-only plans cost $18 and $5 respectively, so that’s $200.21 higher than comparable SIM-only plans per month. That’s $2,402.52 for the whole year. Mega ouch.

    What are my options here?

    As far as I can tell, I have only two options here:

    A → Accept the fate of being a slowly boiled frog

    Having to pay an extra $50.88 per month isn’t the worst fate to befall someone, I suppose. I could accept the added cost as the premium one pays for Singtel’s supposedly superior reception and cell coverage, and I say this as someone with no idea how good/bad other telcos are aside from the occasional complaints from friends. Not that my parents would really appreciate the better data connectivity since they barely use their phones on the go anyway.

    Unfortunately, the $50.88 figure is likely to increase over the years. Each passing year, Singtel increases the cost of something somewhere, turning up the heat as I feel more and more like the fabled frog slowly boiled over time. This year, Singtel upped their Combo 2’s pricing by about 15% and I wonder what they have in store next year.

    Also, I have to resell phones like a drug mule of

    B → Bite the bullet and let my contracts run out, then switch

    As calculated, biting the bullet and not recontracting with Singtel will cost me $2,402.52 more in the second year, but I suppose this is the inevitable alternative to being a cooked amphibian.

    At around $600 savings per year, it’ll take me around 4 years to break even, then save from the 5th year onwards. Probably sooner than that, if Singtel keeps up its constant price hikes.

    This would also mean giving up Singtel’s supposedly better reception, but I remain unconvinced that it’s something to pay a sizeable premium for.

    There’s also the question of what to switch to, and I think Circles.life would probably be my contract-free telco of choice. It has $5 and $18 plans which are the basis of my comparison in this article, and people seem to have a pretty good opinion of it if its Google reviews are to be trusted. An average of 4.2 stars seems high for a telco, and the beauty of having no contract means that I can always switch to another provider if I want.

    What about you?

    Let me know your thoughts: would you pick Option A or B if you were me? Also, what telco are you using, and are they any good? Sound off in the comments below or my Telegram group!

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