Planhacker: Australian Prepaid 3G Broadband Deals 2011

Prepaid 3G broadband isn't only an option for students, of course, but the lack of a contract and ability to vary your usage does make it a sensible area to visit during our Uni Success Guide 2011 week. Here's what's currently on offer for prepaid 3G from the main carriers in the Australian market — it's more competitive than ever.

Picture by Thom Cochrane

While university students can probably rely on lots of Wi-Fi when on campus, access isn't universal. Prepaid 3G has the advantage of not tying you to a particular location — handy if you're changing where you live regularly — and doesn't have the same requirements as a postpaid contract. Outside that context, it remains a good option as a backup access option if ADSL stops working, or something to use when you're travelling.

Prepaid broadband remains highly competitive, and we've seen regular specials on access equipment in the last few months, as well as some increases in data allowances and expiry periods. With planned network enhancements from all the major telcos, there's likely to be more this year, but for the purposes of this table, we've stuck with listing the worst-case "regular" price. Before committing to any sort of mobile broadband deal, you should consider carefully which option works best for you, and then choose from what's on offer.

In the table below, we've listed every prepaid broadband deal currently on offer to individual (non-business) 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 only included providers who actually supply modems (which excludes Amaysim, for instance, which offers a good-value casual data deal but one that's aimed at phones).

Network performance and availability varies hugely depending on where you live; ideally, test reception with a friend or relative's mobile phone before signing up. 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. Coverage maps are a good starting point, but nothing beats a real-life device test.

For each carrier, we've listed what they charge for their cheapest entry-level 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, especially in the case of Telstra.) 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). As a rule, this gets cheaper the more you spend for a recharge, but there are exceptions (see the Optus plans, for instance). All 3G broadband plans include both uploads and downloads when calculating your usage.

Cost isn't the only 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 and how much money you have to spare.

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. ((Similarly, Dodo offers an unusual option of access by hours rather than by download volume, which isn't included here.)

A note: while online ordering can be fast and straightforward and sometimes gets you a better price, it can have disadvantages. 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; just make sure you emphasise that when you're buying.

Here's all the details: click here for a PDF version for printing.

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

Let us know about any other good prepaid deals out there in the comments.

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


Comments

    The Vodafone 3G Pre-Paid Wireless Broadband kit (with 3GB data) can be bought for $29 at (at least) OfficeWorks and The Good Guys.

    Promo pricing for GG is in a catalogue that expires 28/2

    I'd really love to see a comparison of post paid plans for mifi (a.k.a pocket wifi) devices, I've been looking at purchasing one for some time and finding the best deal would be a whole lot easier if I had a neat excel spreadsheet.

      Good thought, will add it to the list - we've done prepaid for pocket wifi but not postpaid.

    Unless you need Telstra's coverage, I'd recommend the following:

    Virgin $19 Your Cap (Phone not Data) pre-pay Cap.
    Huawei Ideos Android Phone $159

    The Virgin pre-pay caps come with a bonus 1Gb of data which is plenty for many people.
    The Ideos does USB tethering and acts as a WiFi hotspot.
    Because it's also an Android 2.2 phone it can run apps that allow me to check email and social networking without having to boot my laptop.

    I've already had one iPhone die-hard defect. She loved mine and bought the cheapo pre-pay Virgin Cap with the assumption that it would play second fiddle to the iPhone. Trouble is, it can do 99% of what the iPhone could and the Apple fondlefone became surplus to requirement.

    You may also wish to note that some carriers will not allow you to recharge more than a certain amount every month.

    I had a very angry conversation with a Virgin staff member who claimed I could not recharge more than ten gig every month, DESPITE the fact that I had recharged twenty gig in the previous month.

    I don't know if other carriers have this limitation, but Virgin was entirely unhelpful if you want more than ten gigs.

    I'm aware they offer a 12g recharge option, and I pointed this out, but Virgin didn't seem to consider that a problem... WHAT?.

    My personal feeling is:
    DO NOT RECOMMEND.

    I'm with Internode (via Optus) on their NMD 9 plan. $39.95 for 12 GB. That's $0.004 per MB, which is 3x cheaper than anything in the spreadsheet. It's also month-to-month so I can leave anytime.

    Highly recommended.

    Cheers,
    -Hugh

      Oh and I'm using a Huawei e5830 "mifi" modem thing.

      -H

        My first comment should read "... $39.95 for 9 GB ..."

        I'll get there eventually.

        -H

          Though the difference is slight, we consciously didn't include month-by-month in these listings - hence the absence of Internode and some others.

    Pennytel are a VoIP and mobile voice and mobile data supplier. They resell optus mobile broadband and their largest monthly contract is $25/month for 2GB but they have been offering a bunus 5GB/month (i.e. 7GB) for $25/month since the product became available around the middle of last year. Modem cost is $68. There is no rollover i.e. each month has its own 7GB. URL is http://www.pennytel.com.au/Mobile-Broadband-Service/Data-Plans.aspx

    Your cals arte incorrect. I have a Telstra 3G stick and I pay $40 for 4 meg plan and they bonus it to $50 but at $1.63 per meg.

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