No contracts, no strings attached - what can go wrong? We looked at prepaid 3G broadband deals avaliable from the likes of Telstra, Optus, Dodo and Virgin, and found some interesting deals.
It wasn’t all that long ago (less than a few months to be precise), that the purchase of an average broadband plan required signing up to long and unpopular contracts that were usually for a 12 or 24 month period.
Thankfully, broadband companies have seen the light and a slew of newly announced prepaid options are now gaining popularity in much the same way that mobile phone prepaid deals did years before.
I want my sexy 3G
3G broadband is all the rage these days; connect anywhere (or wherever you happen to find a decent signal) and be the shining star in your social network.
Advertisements that show sexy models holding their laptop by the beach may seem a little far-fetched, but the idyllic image behind the notion of prepaid 3G-go-anywhere broadband appears to be centred on the ideal of convienient, no strings attached billing.
Prepaid is about this very convenience: knowing what you pay before you get tempted to overspend.
But for 3G prepaid, you will need a good signal to get started. Unfortunately, like any broadband service, 3G is dependent on the strength of a decent signal for viable surfing speeds.
And it’s for this very reason, that we should remind our readers that some broadband vendors are notorious for their patchy network reception.
On the other hand, some have excellent coverage. Telstra for example, may cost the earth, but continue to provide excellent signals with the bulk of their receiver towers dotted around the country.
Obviously, the better signal you get, the more reliable your broadband will be. Every year, more and more vendors are putting massive dollars (think billions) into upgrading their 3G infrastructure. It’s not just important for now – it’s about a network’s competitive advantage. Good price and signal strength are both important and complimentary.
Another point to remember when purchasing pre-paid 3G plans is that more than likely, the plan will expire within a designated term. That is, you will only be able to use your 3G data plan for as long as the plan expiration date allows. Most of the time this ranges from 30 to 60 days, and mirrors the popular pre-paid mobile plans.
Like any broadband, pay attention to how much data you will need. Most of the cheaper pre-paid plans hover around 1 and 3Gbs – which isn’t really enough for most decent browers. But it’s perfect if you just want to check email and a few web pages on public transport twice a day.
Alternatively, vendors such as Dodo offer a plan value based on hours used ,instead of data, although fine print clauses in the contract may still stipulate an overall data limit on those accumulated hours. In the case of Dodo for example, that’s 8GB a month total for an hours-based plan.
Buy with or without a modem?
Some plans come bundled with a 3G modem, while others come just with the SIM card. Choose carefully and choose wisely – the price of a second hand 3G modem on eBay (link) may work out significantly cheaper if you do your homework. If you do factor in a 3G modem, you’ll probably need to go on a long contract (which makes it hardly pre-paid anymore) or you’ll pay around $149 extra in most cases we looked at.
We looked at the big four telcos for this week’s price watch, with one dark horse thrown in for good measure. They include:
VOIP provider GoTalk will be listing their new, upcoming prepaid broadband plans in early February, according to their website. And Vodafone, to our amazement, still don’t offer prepaid 3G as yet.
The price is right
The best of the best this week is a tie between the popular 3 network and surprisngly enough, Dodo. No, we're not kidding.
Although three offers 4GB of data for $49, Dodo bests this price with their competitive '3Gb for $40' deal. Keep in mind that Dodo's deal expires after 60 days, giving you 30 days more to spend your data than three provides. Dodo also provide a bonus of 250MB (not huge) for any plan you take up currently.
But of course there's a Dodo catch. As our readers would know, while Dodo looks really good on paper, it has run into trouble before with a high number of complaints to the TIO.
Not only that, but Dodo also received one of the worst scores in PC Authority’s Service & Reliability Awards in 2008 . So, proceed with caution if you decide to go down the dodo route.
Dodo also provide another alternative; an interesting 'hourly' pay system, which is based on hours used per month, instead of data (though the fine print stipulates a maximum of 8GB data per month on either Dodo plan).
If you're going to be checking your emails every hour with minor website use or P2P, you might wish to stick with the traditional data plan option instead.
As expected, Telstra came out most expensive in our prepaid search. Where as $60 will only get you a measly 750MB (seriously Teltra, is that the best you can do?), $80 spent will only get you 3.5GB of data with them. That's still $30 more than three's closest plan. However to be fair, the fast Next G network is an obvious advantage for many surfers who value data speed.
Virgin and Optus gave us little to be excited by; their stock-standard prepaid plans are hardly amazing value, although Optus have introduced online bonus data (15%) for registering online. But it's still not enough to compete on price.
Three is the winner of our price watch for this week, mainly because we find it difficult to reccommend Dodo, based on the results of their poor service background.
Best prepaid plan on offer: $50 Up To 3GB Up to 3.45GB - 30 Days
Bonuses? Data recharge special: Get 15% extra data when you recharge online. Get 25 bonus SMS.
The Lowdown: There is better value elsewhere, although the extra data bonus goes a little way to alleviate this poor value option.
Check out the Optus website for more.
Best prepaid plan on offer: 4GB for $49 for 30 days
Bonuses? 10 free SMS
The Lowdown: Some of the best pricing available for plans under $50 on the market.
Check out the 3 website for more.
Best prepaid plan on offer: $50 3GB 60 days
P2P downloader’s beware: peer to peer speed is limited to 32kbps, which means you’ll be waiting a lot longer for that file to download.
An imposed 10GB monthly limit, means you can only roll over excess data to the next month (over 10GB), no matter how often you wish to prepay that month. The 60 days validity is nice; one of the better options in this price for data category we found. It should be noted that Virgin also piggyback on the Optus network.
Check out the Virgin website for more.
Best prepaid plan on offer: $80 (2.25c per MB)- 3.5GB for 30 days
Any Bonuses? No.
The Lowdown: Far too expensive. Not surprisingly, considering Telstra have never been known for their well priced prepaid mobile pricing plans. For $80, you could find better value at any other provider, but then again you wouldn’t be getting the benefit of the huge Next G network and its excellent signal strength around Australia.
Check out the Telstra website for more.
Best prepaid plan on offer: 3GB for – 60 days - $40 or 150 hours for $70.00 to be used over 90 days.
Any bonuses No bonus SMS.
The Lowdown: Dodo specifically state that no SMS services are available on their network. 8GB monthly limits apply.
Check out the Dodo website for more.