Prepaid 3G broadband is ideal if you want occasional travel access or a backup for ADSL nuisance moments, and the cost of setting up with it is cheaper than ever. Here's what's currently on offer from the main carriers in the Australian market.
Picture by Cedric Sam
We covered prepaid 3G broadband back in June, but since then there's been quite a few changes in the market that make an update timely. The range of options has reduced slightly, with Exetel effectively withdrawing from the market.
There's also been a general trend downwards in the price to get set up, with every provider dropping their starter kit price. You can now easily score a prepaid modem for $49, though the options from the big-name carriers.
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.
In the table below, we've listed every prepaid broadband deal currently on offer to individual buyers in Australia. There are four major 3G networks operated in Australia: Optus, Telstra, 3 and Vodafone. Optus also wholesales its broadband data services to several other providers, as you'll see in the table. (We've included Dodo for completeness, though as usual, based on its customer service record, we don't recommend it. Dodo offers an unusual option of access by hours rather than by download volume, which isn't included here, and includes extra off-peak access between 12am and 7pm, which aren't likely to help you much.)
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.
For each carrier, we've listed what they charge for hardware, and what they charge purely for a SIM if you already have your own 3G modem to bring along. (This isn't always an option.) We've also outlined how much 'starter data' is offered to get new customers going.
The key factor for most prepaid buyers is the recharge details: what they cost, how much data they include, and how long that data lasts. For each plan, we've calculated the cost per megabyte (to the nearest tenth of a cent). All 3G broadband plans include both uploads and downloads when calculating your usage.
Cost isn't a standalone consideration. As a rule of thumb, the more expensive (up-front) options have a longer expiry period. If you're buying a service for intermittent use, a single top-up that lasts six months can be more useful than a cheaper, quickly-expiring option, but this very much depends on your own usage case.
Many plans offer individual quirks such as 'bonus downloads', SMS sending capabilities or free browsing of particular content types, and some offer extra data if you purchase online rather than in store. We haven't detailed these in this table. (A note: while online ordering can be fast and straightforward, buying in person locally for the original device will make it easier to return a device if it turns out not to work in your home environment because of signal problems.)
Here's all the details: click on the image for a much larger and more legible version, or here for a PDF version for printing.
If you want to dig into any given plan, here are the relevant sites:
Tip us off to any other good prepaid deals out there in the comments.
Lifehacker's weekly Planhacker column rounds up the best communication deals.