Opinion: Optus have launched an 'unlimited' broadband package, making them the fourth ISP to do so. However, on closer inspection, these unlimited plans might not really be as good as they seem.
Australia's second largest ISP has appealed to the member base it originally left behind a decade ago when Optus were among the first to pioneer unlimited broadband in Australia through its residential cable plans.
Back then, when Clinton was in the President's office and Napster was clinging to survival, it was hard not to think of the internet as anything but unlimited. So, what a difference ten years makes: while Optus cable speeds have hardly changed in that period of time - prices and broadband value has, and the use of unlimited deals quickly lost lustre as some downloaders took more than their fare share of the data pie, thanks to torrents and P2P.
Optus' latest Fusion plans, which are being called 'unlimited' might seem like good value, but there are some clauses in the fine print worth reading. And it's not the first time we've heard of these plan changes. In March this year, ITnews were among the first news sites to get a sniff at today's long awaited pricing and plan changes. The site was also correct in their prediction that today's announcement by Optus would see the cutting of many of the ISP's excess data charges.
Is it truly unlimited?
The Optus $129 Fusion 'unlimited' plan is purely unlimited by name only. Though the package includes free line rental and unlimited phone calls (including mobiles), which in itself is a very good deal if you're a big talker - the unlimited broadband is really just good for the first 50GB. After you reach that figure, you're throttled back down to earth at a mere 256Kbps, a snail's pace for modern internet users.
The 150GB option
In addition to this plan, Optus have introduced another plan, which isn't unlimited, but looks like it might be a better choice if you're not concerned about free phone calls. It's new $59.95 plan, also announced today, gives users a whopping 150GB, or about *40 cents a gigabyte* to download before any shaping takes place. It makes more sense to take up this type of plan over the more expensive Fusion plan which would slow you down many gigabytes earlier and for half the price (if you don't count the free phone rental and calls).
Optus joins the likes of AAPT, who last year became the first ISP to announce the (re) introduction of unlimited plans to the market. Other ISPs to follow suit include TPG and to a lesser degree, Dodo, which runs off the Optus network.
However, AAPT's cheapest 'unlimited' plan is hardly worth getting excited over though. $89.95 buys you unlimited broadband during a designated time period of day - which may or may be useful to enthusiasts who use time-throttled software uploaders. The shaping of unlimited data is just as concerning. During the hours of 8pm - 8am, the AAPT deal lets you download whatever you like. Outside of those hours, speeds reduce to 64Kbps, a hair off dial-up speeds.
To be fair, an AAPT spokesperson has contacted us to let us know that this plan, while being the cheaper of their offerings - isn't the only 'unlimited' plan they offer.
*In early Feburary this year, the company also launched a 24/7 unlimited broadband deal that includes EMI sponsored music downloads as an add-on bonus. An AAPT spokesperson told us that they believe this broadband deal is the only truly unique unlimited product on the market, at $99.95 on a 24 month contract.
We took a closer look at the deal and we were impressed that you also get a free Wi-Fi modem and included line rental in the price and after seaching the fine print, could not find any devil hiding in the finer details.
Over at Dodo, their biggest 'unlimited' package for $89.90 gets you unlimited data for the first 50GB, after which you are slowed down to 256kbps. Still hardly unlimited by definition.
Best value unlimited broadband plans
If you're going by price alone, then of all Australian ISPs at the moment, TPG still appear to have the best unlimited package , a broadband deal that by all accounts (including the fine print) seems to be truly unlimited, not by shaping or other 'gotcha' means.
For $75.00, select TPG customers can take advantage of what the ISP is calling true unlimited broadband - no data quotas, no data throttling, just "unlimited 24x7" - according to information found on their website. It looks similar to the $99.95 AAPT 24/7 deal, except it's a good $25.00 cheaper, if a tad more limited than AAPT's Australia-wide offering.
There's still a catch though. TPG's unlimited data plan is only available in select TPG equipped telephone exchanges - so chances are slim that everyone will be able to enjoy such good value. Meanwhile, with Optus enjoying their position as the second largest ISP, we can only hope that these price cuts will spark the necessary competitive drive to bring down broadband prices and improve value across the wider industry.
Even so, with more and more ISPs marketing their broadband products as unlimited, the ACCC may soon need to step in as they have in the past and clear up some of this 'unlimited' confusion.
*This story has been updated to reflect AAPT's comments on unlimited plans and some calculations (gigabyte costings) have been corrected.