For many people, 3G broadband is something that's used only occasionally: on a work trip, on a holiday, or when the ADSL stops working for some reason. Planhacker rounds up the best prepaid deals for when you don't need regular access.
Picture by Ed Yourdon
Two events this week served to highlight the issue of how to plan effective usage of prepaid 3G broadband. Firstly, Amaysim launched a range of plans which included an option of 1GB of data for 30 days for $9.90, which is a pretty competitive deal. Secondly, we were reminded that prepaid plans can sometimes expire altogether if you don't use them. The latter was an iPad-specific example, but still a useful reminder that prepaid can be a bit more complicated than just "pay up when you need to use it".
With that in mind, I thought it might be worth highlighting two aspects of prepaid 3G broadband plans: the cheapest available options for top-up, and the plans with the longest expiry date. That covers the two strategies a casual user will most likely adopt: using a low-value plan in specific situations, or having a system set up that's always ready to go and only needs very occasional maintenance. The former is cheaper; the latter is potentially less hassle.
We ran a full Planhacker guide to prepaid 3G broadband back in October, which offers a more comprehensive overview of the sector. (I haven't covered iPad-specific plans in the table below, but we'll revisit that topic in the future.)
Before committing to any sort of mobile broadband deal, you should consider carefully which option works best for you. We've covered postpaid 3G plans elsewhere.
Network performance and availability varies hugely depending on where you live. Capital cities are (unsurprisingly) much better served. It's generally accepted that Telstra's Next G service has the most comprehensive network coverage, especially in regional areas, but even that can suffer from black spots. This can be an issue if you're taking a device on holiday, though unless it's a return visit to a familiar location there's not really much you can do about it.
For each plan, we've calculated the cost per megabyte (to the nearest tenth of a cent). For the Amaysim plan, you'll also need active credit on your main phone account, and the minimum top-up amount is $10. We didn't include this figure in the cost calculations, since you can use that credit to make calls, but it's worth bearing in mind. The Dodo and Optus plans offer peak and off-peak periods; our calculation is based on peak usage as that's by far the most likely scenario. All 3G broadband plans include both uploads and downloads when calculating your usage.
Here's all the details: click on the image for a larger and more legible version.
As that table suggests, even allowing for the additional call-credit charge, the newly-added Amaysim deal is pretty competitive for data on a per-megabyte basis. Of course, that's not necessarily an option for everyone given its reliance on the highly variable Optus network. Regular users on a postpaid plan can do better than any of these deals, and users with higher data needs might prefer the long-dated expiry options.
If you want to dig into any given plan, here are the relevant sites:
What's your strategy for occasional prepaid 3G broadband use? Tell us in the comments.
Lifehacker's weekly Planhacker column rounds up the best communication deals.