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Planhacker: Complete Australian Postpaid 3G Broadband Guide

If you regularly use a 3G broadband service, then a postpaid plan generally offers better value. Find the one which meets your needs best with this comprehensive roundup of what’s currently on offer.

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If you’re after prepaid 3G broadband — which offers greater flexibility but at a higher per-megabyte cost — then check out our recent Planhacker feature outlining deals in that market. We weren’t planning on returning to the topic of 3G broadband quite this soon, but Vodafone’s refresh of its plans earlier this week made it seem timely to revisit the area.

Postpaid broadband plans typically come in two flavours: one where you sign up to a contract length, usually with a free modem thrown in (and a cancellation charge if you quit early), and one where you sign up for a month-by-month contract. The latter offers more flexibility if your circumstances change, but usually requires you to buy the hardware or supply your own. Not all providers offer both choices, and some have different conditions for contract and non-contract deals. As ever, before committing to any mobile broadband deal, consider carefully what your actual needs are. (The third option — including a bundled PC with a built-in modem and paying it off over time — is one we’ll revisit in a future Planhacker column).

In the table below, we’ve listed every postpaid broadband deal we could find currently on offer to individual buyers in Australia. There are four major 3G networks operated in Australia: Optus, Telstra, 3 and Vodafone. Despite now being part of Vodafone, 3 still uses Telstra’s network when outside its own network coverage area, and charges you 50 cents per megabyte for the privilege of doing so.

Optus also wholesales its broadband data services to several other providers, as you’ll see in the table, and there’s a fair bit of difference between how those services are priced. (As ever, while we’ve included Dodo, the company has a very poor customer service record, and its excess charges are ridiculously high.)

Price aside, your choice of provider may be heavily influenced by the network performance and availability where you live. Capital cities are much better served than regional areas, where Telstra’s Next G service is often the only realistic choice (though it does suffer from black spots as well, despite Telstra’s marketing).

For each carrier, we’ve listed what they charge for hardware if you buy it up front (contract plans usually include it for nothing), and whether they offer a ‘BYO modem’ option (and at what cost). For each monthly plan, we’ve calculated the effective cost per megabyte.

We’ve also listed what you’ll pay if you exceed the data limits; a handful of providers (Primus, Telstra and Virgin) offer to shape connections if you go over rather than charging for excess. Internode doesn’t charge for excess use directly but allows you to purchase additional ‘data blocks’ instead once you exceed your monthly total.

All 3G broadband plans include both uploads and downloads when calculating your usage. We haven’t included one-off special deals or discounts for customers who buy other services from the same provider. (Some of Optus’ plans drop the allowance after 12 months; we’ve used the lower rather than the higher figure.)

Here’s all the details: click on the image for a much larger and more legible version.

As with prepaid plans, there’s no single standout offer, and what you choose depends largely on your circumstances and your requirements. One general point: with lots of choices available, resist signing a 24-month contract if you can, as it makes it hard to adjust if your circumstances change (moving house can render an existing 3G service all but useless, for instance).

If you regularly hit regional Australia, Telstra is the soundest choice (though you have to sign a 24 month contract if you don’t want to pay $299 for its modem). Given the roaming charges, it’s hard to recommend 3 if you regularly travel outside a 3 coverage area. Vodafone’s recent updates make its plans look somewhat better value. Exetel’s $5 monthly plan (with no included data) is an ultra-cheap alternative to occasional prepaid use if your usage patterns are light. Excess data charges range from fractions of a cent to 10 cents per megabyte; make sure your plan matches your likely needs.

If you want to dig into any given plan, here are the relevant sites:

Let us know about to any other good postpaid broadband deals you’ve found in the comments.

Lifehacker’s weekly Planhacker column rounds up the best communication deals.


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