3 is the only provider to only offer a 3G network. Where the other networks fall back to their slower GRPS networks (or in Virgin’s case, back to Optus’ GPRS network), 3 has no backup. By default, 3 leaves you with no connection, though you can “roam” to Telstra’s GPRS network.
This isn’t ideal – besides being much slower, 3 only includes a paltry amount of free data in this mode – 5MB on its $49 per month plan. Once you’ve finished that you’re charged a ludicrous $1.65 per megabyte, making roaming prohibitively expensive for those who need internet access outside 3’s coverage.
This potential deal-breaker aside, there’s plenty to like about 3’s plans. It offers more 3G plans than any provider but BigPond. Its cheapest, which provides 1GB of data per month for just $15 (though you’ll need to spend an additional $5 per month for the modem if you aren’t already a 3 customer), is a great way to kick off with mobile broadband.
It remains near the top of the pile in terms of value for money throughout its impressive range of plans, and is particularly striking at higher capacities – it’s the cheapest, per GB, of all the providers at 6GB.
The icing on the cake would have been if 3 had resisted the temptation to charge for excess data use, as Virgin does. Instead, 3 charges 10c per extra MB. As with all the providers this month, we’d much prefer to see inexpensive bandwidth throttling over simply clouting consumers in the pocket.
Our speed tests provided a pleasing set of results, with 3 providing the best average speed results besides for the high-speed HSDPA networks operated by Optus and Telstra. On average we saw a download speed in excess of 2Mb/s – easily fast enough to run rich internet applications and stream video.
3’s Mobile Broadband software is easy to use. It offers the same kind of data information as Vodafone’s excellent Mobile Connect software, and we appreciate the ability to see at-a-glance data information – although as always, the most reliable information as to the state of your account is to be found online. Still, the ability to grab at-a-glance information is valuable.
If you’re after the best value for money, aren’t bothered about roaring 6Mb/s speeds, and intend to connect to mobile broadband only in major cities, 3 offers a superb collection of good value plans, particularly around the 3-5GB sweet spot. Consider the free hardware and good software and, unless you need wider coverage, 3 is the obvious choice for most.
Also see: Is pre-paid wireless broadband good value?
Vodafone responds to Optus price hikes
Telstra pre-paid wireless vs Optus, Virgin
Wireless broadband: 3's time has come
Cheap plans, good hardware and excellent results in our speed tests make 3 a deserving winner, in our group test against Telstra Bigpond, Optus, Vodafone, Virgin and Unwired.