If you're picking a wireless broadband plan today, chances are you'll have the option of a pocket WiFi modem instead of the usual USB dongle.
The mini wireless devices, which provide a wireless hotspot for several laptops or a tablet or phone, are being prominently spruiked by major carriers including Three, Vodafone, and Optus, and other ISPs including Internode. Telstra's device is reportedly on the way. And now the latest news is Optus making the portable hotspot device available on its pre-paid wireless plans.
The good news with the Optus Mini WiFi modem is you won't pay any more in terms of recharge costs as a pre-paid USB dongle without WiFi. The setup cost is more though: $129 with 8GB of peak data in the case of Optus pre-paid Mini WiFi modem starter kit, verse $79 for 4GB of peak data with the USB E173 Modem.
In terms of bang for buck, contract plans are still much better and you'll get the modem for free, though you'll be locked in for at least 12 months depending on your plan. Also, Optus cleverly (or annoyingly, depending on your point of view) locks the prepaid Mini WiFi modem to their own network for the first 12 months unless you recharge to $100.
We note though that Vodafone has cut the monthly cost of its 24-month contract Pocket WiFi modem from $39 per month for 8GB (similar to Optus) to $19.95 per month on a 24 month.
Our only question is how quickly we'd burn through the initial 8GB, with a phone and laptop connected.