Mobile Data Price War

Anthony Caruana
10 December, 2007
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It’s not a bad time to be a mobile internet user in Australia at the moment. Most of the carriers have bumped up the value of their different offerings. This is a far cry from the situation of just a couple of years ago when traffic was metered in megabytes and billed in the hundreds of dollars. Today, it’s possible to strike a decent deal at under $20 per month.

Telstra Bigpond

Where Telstra kicks everyone’s butt is coverage. Its NextG service, based on the 850MHz HSDPA spec, covers more of Australia’s land-mass than any other service. The upside of this is that there are no roaming charges should you wander off Telstra’s grid.

On the other hand, pricing is the highest on the market and, frankly, is the most confusing with a mixture of traffic and time elements depending on which pricing plan and hardware you choose.

Three NetConnect

I’ll start with a disclaimer – I use this service and pay for it from my own pocket. No special journo pricing or treatment.

Three’s running a special offer whereby 1GB of traffic is priced at under $15AUD. Plans move up to a 5GB for $50 per month. All the plans are for two-year commitments and include a USB modem (the Huawei E220). These offers are limited until mid-January so don’t dawdle in your decision making.

Coverage is limited to Aussie capitals cities and surrounding suburbs. If you leave Three’s network you roam to Telstra’s GPRS coverage (remember when GPRS was fast) and is charged at $0.10 per MB.

Vodafone

According to a report at APCMag.com Vodafone is offering current customers on 100MB and 300MB 12-month and 24-month contracts a free boost to their new 5GB plan. There are some terms and conditions to look out for but if you’re a Vodafone customer it’s definitely work a peek. The special offer is only available til the end of December 2007.

Optus

Not to be left out of things, Optus is offering a new $40/2GB plan. Details can be found on Optus’ site. It would have been a well-priced plan a month ago but other carriers are now offering better value. Also, there’s no mention of Mac support and in a recent feature I did for Australian Macworld magazine I discovered that it was the only service I couldn’t get to work with a Mac no matter what I did. Surely, Optus could offer minimum support with a driver that uses the Apple Internet Connect application. The hardware Optus uses isn’t anything special. Its USB option is the same Huawei E220 that almost every carrier here offers and the ExpressCard will be an off-the-shelf unit although I couldn’t find any official information on the exact make and model.

Summary

If you’re in the market for a mobile internet service then now’s a good time to shop around. Carriers are moving from providing a niche service to a commodity market and that means prices will come down. For many, the pricing sweet spot has already come (like me!). That’ll mean a call to our carriers to see what they’ll do to keep us as customers. For newbies, you’re entering a time of excellent value but you’ll need to decide quickly as some of these prices are Christmas specials.

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