If you regularly need an internet connection on the road, a separate mobile broadband SIM in a hotspot or USB dongle is the way to go. But who offers the most data and the best deals? We've rounded up all the available plans from Australian carriers so you can compare and choose the right one for you.
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Vodafone last week updated its postpaid broadband plans, which seemed a good reason to compare what's currently on the market. (Vodafone also made 4G available on its prepaid plans for this first time.)
For this Planhacker we're looking at postpaid plans, where you pay for a fixed amount of data each month (either on contract or on a month-to-month deal). If you only need mobile broadband occasionally, then either tethering your smartphone or using a prepaid device may well be a better deal. (We'll examine prepaid plans another time. We're also not including plans which require to purchase another service, such as home broadband.)
We've gone through the consumer postpaid plans available for each of the main networks and their resellers, as listed on their sites. All plans are 4G unless otherwise indicated.
For each, we've listed what you pay per month and how much data you'll get, and then discussed additional quirks such as how you pay for excess data usage. We've also listed required contract lengths where these apply. In many cases, choosing not to go on contract saves you the price of a device.
We haven't included device costs in the table, which will vary depending on whether you want a hotspot or a dongle and whether you have a contract. Dongles are generally cheaper, but only allow you to connect one device at a time. Hotspots let you connect multiple devices but require their own power source. For each provider, we've noted the relevant costs in the discussion. (If you're using a SIM in a tablet, you won't need a separate device.) We haven't included time-limited specials.
Amaysim's plans are on Optus' 3G network, not 4G. Excess data is charged at 5 cents per MB. For heavy users, Optus' own $60 offer is better value than the $99.90 plan here.
If you exceed your allowance, Optus charges you $10 and provides you another 1GB. Signing up for a contract generally lets you eliminate the cost of the a dongle or hotspot, or pay it off over time. You can use the included data across more than one device at no extra cost.
Telstra's plans are notably more expensive than its rivals, and you have to sign up for a 24-month contract. Excess data is charged at 3 cents per MB. It also offers a 25GB plan but doesn't list it on its web site.
Vaya uses Optus' 4G network. Excess data is charged at 2 cents per MB.
Virgin's $20 and $30 plans are only available on 3G, not 4G, and all plans require a 12 month contract. Rather than excess data charges, Virgin shapes you to a maximum speed of 128Kbps, and then cuts you off altogether. It seems idiotic to pay for the $60 plan, which only has 1GB more than the $40 plan.
Tables And Comparisons
Here’s the full table with all the plans. You can click on a column heading to sort or filter for specific download allowances, prices or companies. Click in the bottom-right corner for a maximised view.
Mobile broadband selection will often depend on the signal available where you live or work. Telstra's coverage is excellent in rural areas, but there's a hefty premium involved. If you're in an area with options, the Vodafone plans have the most generous data allowances. We're not fans of the "pay $10 straight away for another 1GB" approach adopted by both Optus and Vodafone. For Optus 4G, Vaya has slightly cheaper deals. Virgin Mobile's charging model is very strange.
Spotted other plans we should include, or an error in the tables? (We try to avoid those, but we're only human). Tell us in the comments.
Lifehacker's weekly Planhacker column rounds up the best communication deals.