If you plan to use mobile broadband as your main connection, you’ll generally buy it on contract to score a decent data allowance and you’ll want the fastest speed possible. Vodafone launched new 4G mobile broadband contract plans today, but how do they compare to the existing offers from Telstra, Optus and Virgin Mobile? This Planhacker table rounds them up so you can choose the right one for you.
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For occasional use when travelling, postpaid mobile broadband doesn’t make sense; you’re better off tethering to your phone or using a prepaid device. However, if you need ongoing access because you can’t get broadband, you move frequently or you’re a fly-in fly-out worker, a contract can be worthwhile. Postpaid contract plans generally have more generous data allocations, and in Vodafone’s case are the only way to access 4G. Vodafone and Optus offer a choice of contract or month-to-month, where you pay for the device upfront but aren’t in a long-term commitment. Telstra and Virgin Mobile don’t have that option.
For a permanent connection, the higher data speeds of 4G are highly desirable, though you should check coverage maps thoroughly to make sure 4G is available, and ideally check with a device as well. All carriers have decent 4G coverage in most capital cities, but you need to check carefully — no-one’s coverage is perfect.
In the table below, we’ve looked at the consumer 4G postpaid plans on offer from Optus, Telstra, Virgin Mobile and Vodafone. We’ve noted how much data you’ll receive (that figure covers both uploads and downloads) and how much you’ll pay for an access device. Depending on the carrier and the plan, you’ll either pay up front for the device or pay it off via a monthly fee over the life of the contract. We’ve also calculated the minimum total cost.
We’d generally advise using a Wi-Fi hotspot in this scenario, since you can share it across multiple devices, but a USB dongle is cheaper if you know you’ll only need to use it with one machine.
Specific notes on each provider follow the table.
|Provider||Device||Data (GB)||Plan cost||Monthly device||Upfront device||Contract||Total cost|
Optus offers a choice of month-to-month, 12-month and 24-month contracts. You can only access 4G on its 7GB/month and 10GB/month plans, so we’ve only listed those here.
Optus charges for excess data by adding an extra 1GB and charging you $10 for that — useful if you suddenly need lots more data, but expensive if you only exceed your regular limit by a few MB.
Telstra offers two Wi-Fi hotspots; the basic 4G model, or a pricier newer version that also supports its 4G advanced network. We’ve included the pricing for the more basic option in the table. For contract plans, there’s no USB device offered, and only 24-month contracts are available. Excess data is $0.10/MB.
Virgin only offers a single 4G-enabled plan, $60 a month on a 12-month contract. It uses the Optus network, but offers a larger data allowance (13GB) than Optus itself (10GB at the same price point). If you exceed your allowance, you’ll be throttled to 128Kbps. The device is included with the plan at no extra charge. If you’re keen on the Optus network, this looks like a good deal.
Vodafone offers a choice of a 24-month contract or a month-to-month plan. Until April 2 2014, customers who already have a Vodafone contract plan for their mobile will receive a 15 per cent discount on a new broadband plan. (We haven’t included that discounted figure in the table.)
You can share the hotspot version with up to 10 devices, which is higher than the typical 5-device limit imposed by most other carriers. Excess data is $0.10/MB.
Know of a postpaid 4G broadband option we’ve missed? (Again, we’re not looking at prepaid plans here.) Spotted an error? Tell us in the comments.
Lifehacker’s weekly Planhacker column rounds up the best communication deals.