One of the most confusing aspects of pre-paid wireless broadband plans are the way different providers calculate your credit, and how much value you get when you recharge your credit. Here's how to avoid getting ripped off
One of the key options if you're looking at wireless broadand is pre-paid - giving you the flexibility of paying what you want, and not being locked into fixed monthly amounts. It's also an area with potential traps for broadband users.
We've looked at pre-paid options in our 10-page guide to Broadband Internet deals in the July 09 issue of PC Authority, including the following advice:
Telstra starts you off with $10 worth of credit. Yes, that's $10 - Telstra meters the value of the data on your plan, not the number of megabytes you have left. Its cost per megabyte varies according to your last pre-paid recharge.
The initial $10 works out to 75MB, and you can add credit to your pre-paid account; that credit diminishes at a fixed rate per megabyte used and will expire after 30 days unless you recharge the service. When you recharge, any remaining credit is rolled over.
The fixed rate varies based on the amount of credit you last put on your service. For example, if you put $20 of credit in, Telstra charges 13.3c per megabyte (that works out to 150MB for $20). But if you put $80 of credit in, Telstra reduces the rate to just 2.25c per megabyte, which applies to all your remaining credit, not just the $80.
The problem with this plan is that you can easily get ripped off, since the per megabyte rate is based on whatever amount of credit you put in the last time you recharged. Say you still had $40 left over from an $80 pre-paid recharge. Normally, that would be charged at 2.25c per MB.
But if you add a $20 recharge to your account, your rate switches to 13.3c per megabyte - and that also applies to the $40 you had left over.
The upshot is that you have to be careful with your recharges, or you might find that you're getting less than you paid for.
Optus, 3 and Vodafone use a much simpler model, where the quota is metered by the megabyte rather than by a dollar value.
Optus prices range from $15 for 500MB to $100 for 6GB - and you start off with 200MB when you initially buy the $150 modem. You can have up to 10GB of credit on your service at one time. The credit expiry time will vary depending on the recharge amount: a $15 recharge
voucher will expire in 15 days; $30 to $50 will expire in 30; a $70 or $100 recharge will expire in 60.
Strangely, data usage is metered in 10MB blocks, and even using a fraction of one block in a day shaves 10MB off your available quota. To offset this somewhat, Optus effectively gives to
20MB "free" since the first 30MB you use in a day is only counted as 10MB.
Vodafone's prices are rather similar to Optus', starting at $19 for 500MB and ranging to $49 for 3GB. Quotas expire after 30 days, but if you recharge within that period any unused quota
gets rolled over into the new 30-day period (with up to a 5GB max prepaid). It meters data in 1M blocks.
3, meanwhile, has plans that are a little cheaper than the others. The initial $129 outlay will net you either 50MB or 100MB to start (depending on whether you order online or over the phone), and you can buy extra data for $15 for 500MB, $29 for 2GB or $49 for 4GB. This data expires within 30 days, although if you recharge your card within that period any unused quota will get rolled over.
There's also an option of forking out $149 for a recharge, which grants you 12GB, and that 12GB won't expire for an entire year. You can have a total quota of up to 15GB on your card.
Of the four, 3 probably offers the best plans, at least when it comes to cost per gigabyte. It costs less than the others and it has fewer traps. Vodafone might be our second choice, especially since it offers better coverage than 3.
There is a complete flipside to all this, and it is that Telstra has the best network. If coverage and speed are important to you it may still be the better option. Just note that its top-end plans are better value, on a cost per megabyte basis, than its cheaper plans by an order of magnitude.
You can read more about wireless plans in our Broadband Buyer's Guide: Fixed vs Mobile
If you're interested in our speed tests of each Australian wireless broadband provider, see our Mobile Broadband Group Test