Mobile Broadband: The big roundup
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According to its coverage maps, 3 has one of the most limited HSDPA networks, but its high-speed coverage extends to a vast area. Sydney, Melbourne/Geelong, Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Adelaide, Canberra and Perth are all covered.
The major drawback is that once you leave 3’s HSDPA network you’re automatically shifted onto Telstra’s GSM network, for which you’re charged extra. A lot extra, in fact. On 3’s most expensive $49 a month plan, you get only 5MB of GSM data. After that, the flat rate for all plans is $1.65 per MB. Stray outside HSDPA coverage and your next bill could be a nasty shock.
But the most restricted coverage – by far – comes from the WiMax provider, Unwired. It relies on a smaller number of towers to provide internet access, although you could argue companies such as Telstra are at an advantage as they have an existing GSM infrastructure to build on. Nonetheless, Unwired is at a distinct disadvantage for anyone who needs mobile broadband in lots of places.
Without physically covering the width and breadth of the country, testing network provider’s coverage claims is impossible - PC Authority is based in Sydney, so it’s very hard to accurately test Telstra’s claims of coverage in Broome or Perth, for instance. Luckily, ISPs realise it’s in their best interests to provide accurate information, and most have interactive maps on their websites.
The best of these not only illustrates HSDPA coverage – which tends to exist only in major metropolitan areas – but also GPRS coverage. All of the 3G cards on test this month can roll back to GPRS coverage, so it’s important to know where your network will fall back.
The bottom line is that if you live in a major urban area, you’re probably covered, but once you’ve chosen a plan and service provider, check and double check its coverage claims before you set out on a contract. You should also note whether your chosen provider offers a money-back guarantee.Plans
The table below shows the plans of each operator, but if you simply sign a contract that offers the lowest dollar-per-gigabyte price, you’ll end up spending much more than you need to. It’s best to evaluate how much data you expect to use, and to bear in mind that, at the moment, no HSDPA providers intend their 3G networks to be used as replacements for always-on broadband connections. BigPond is the only provider, for instance, to provide a monthly data cap larger than 7GB.
BigPond also offers the lowest data cap this month at just 400MB. This is enough for daily email, including the odd attachment, and non-video internet surfing, but more serious users – or those with long commutes – will find themselves reaching their caps quickly.
You should also take note of what happens when you reach your data cap. Some providers hit their users with extortionate per-megabyte charges: Telstra charges 25c, for instance, so if you go 500MB over your allowance you could find $125 on top of your bill.
Others – such as Virgin – “shape” your connection, which means the speed drops until your billing cycle renews. It’s a more wallet-friendly way of going over.
While we’ve compared standalone plans, so you get the freedom to choose the data plan that fits, all providers offer discounts if you bundle mobile broadband with a phone plan. Optus offers its standalone plans with $10 off for Optus Mobile customers, for example, while 3 provides its modem for free on some plans.
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This Group Test appeared in the December, 2008 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine
13 November 2008
|If Virgin mobile is anything like VBB@Home it will be oversold and virtually useless after 3pm any day
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Mobile Broadband: The big roundup?
Internet everywhere, for affordable prices. Dave Stevenson investigates the claims, tests the speeds and delivers a verdict on the best plan for your mobile dollars.
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