Do you frequently find yourself looking for an internet connection when you’re out of the house? If you’re a frequent traveller, then you should consider getting a mobile broadband service, so that you can get online from wherever you may be.
Mobile Broadband is delivered through the same 3G and 4G networks as your mobile phone service is, but it uses special hardware that is designed for data only. This can be either a USB modem that plugs in to your laptop or a Pocket WiFi device that connects to the mobile data network and creates a portable WiFi hotspot that you can share with up to 5 or 10 devices, such as your laptop, mobile phones and tablets.
Some people have even chosen to “cut the cable” to their homes and use a mobile broadband connection as their internet connection. This is particularly useful if you’ve just moved in to a home or apartment that does not have broadband access, or if you’re in a share house – each person can have their own connection.
Mobile Broadband Plans Compared
We’ve prepared a round up for the best low, medium and high usage mobile broadband plans, plus the best prepaid mobile broadband plans that have long expiry dates for more occasional use.
Low Usage Mobile Broadband Plans
If you’re looking for a small amount of data every month, to check your e-mail and browse the web while you’re out of the house, these low usage (less than 1 GB per month) plans are likely to fit the bill.
The entry level Amaysim Mobile Broadband plan gives you 1 GB of data for just $9.90 per month.
Medium Usage Mobile Broadband Plans
If you’re a more regular user of mobile broadband, then consider these plans that offer between 1.5 GB and 8 GB of data per month.
Amaysim have some really competitive mid level mobile broadband plans as well – although you might find that picking one of their Unlimited plans for your phone with a large data allocation might save you the additional hassle of carrying a second device for your mobile broadband.
High Usage Mobile Broadband Plans
If you are a heavy data user, then these mobile broadband plans with a large data allocation include 10 GB or more of data. Some of these plans also allow you to use their included data allowance over a longer time period, many of them up to 365 days.
Long Expiry Prepaid Mobile Broadband
For occasional users who may require sporadic access to mobile data such as when holidaying, these long expiry prepaid mobile broadband plans are perfect. You get up to 365 days to use the included data, which means you can put it in the cupboard for a couple of months when you don’t need it, and not have to worry about losing your data allocation.
How Much Data Do I Need?
If you’re new to mobile broadband, then it may be hard to figure out how much data you’re going to need and which sized plan is the best for you – after all, you don’t want to be faced with the bill shock of getting a bill with a large amount of excess data usage – some providers charge as much as $10/MB for excess usage over the included data allocation which can add up very quickly.
We strongly recommend that you get started on a prepaid plan, and monitor your data usage closely to avoid any nasty surprises.
In order to give you a guide as to how much data you might use, we’ve listed a few common applications below. This is a guide only, based on average numbers.
- E-Mail: 50 KB per message (without attachments). Attachments can vary greatly, but an average PDF or photo attachment could be 2-5 MB.
- Mobile Web Browsing: Approx 400-500 KB per page.
- Desktop/Laptop Web Browsing: Approx 800 KB – 1.2 MB per page.
- Mobile App Downloads: 8-10 MB per game/application.
- Music Downloads: 7-8 MB per song.
- Streaming Music (Spotify, etc): 1-2 MB per minute.
- Video Streaming (YouTube, etc): 6-15 MB per minute.
Please remember that this is a guide only, and your real world usage may vary.
Buying a Mobile Broadband Modem or Pocket WiFi
All of the plans that we’ve listed on this page, apart from the Telstra plans, are either prepaid or no contract postpaid services, where you are expected to bring your own modem.
If you don’t have a mobile broadband modem yet, there are a few different ways that you can purchase one.
- Some of the providers listed will offer to sell you a mobile broadband modem when you join. If you’re looking at the prepaid mobile broadband modems that are sometimes advertised, these will be most likely be locked to the network you buy it from.
- If you’re joining one of the virtual network operators that buys wholesale access from Telstra, Vodafone or Optus, you could purchase one of the prepaid devices locked to their network so that you know it will operate on the correct frequencies and then pay to have it unlocked.
- You could buy a second hand 3G/4G modem that has been unlocked from eBay. It pays to make sure it can support the frequencies of the network you are connecting to. For Telstra, this is 850 MHz and 2100 MHz 3G, Optus 3G is 900 MHz and 2100 MHz, and Vodafone use 850 MHz, 900 MHz and 2100 MHz for their 3G network.
- You can also buy brand new, unlocked 3G/4G modems that do not have network branding from some computer retailers such as MSY. Again, make sure the model you’re buying supports the frequencies of your chosen network.
While all three networks offer both USB and Pocket WiFi modems, I would recommend spending the extra $20-$30 that it costs to buy one of the Pocket WiFi models, as they are typically a lot easier to set up (just turn it on and connect to the WiFi hotspot), you do not need to load any software on your computer and you can share the internet connection with up to 5 or 10 devices, depending on the model of modem you buy.
If you do choose to buy a prepaid mobile broadband modem, you will likely find that the price includes a SIM card with 2-3 GB of data that you can use within your first 30 days. This is a great way to test out the network you’ve chosen and make sure that it works well in the areas you’re going to be using it.
Which Network Should I Choose?
All three networks (Telstra, Vodafone and Optus) have invested heavily in building out 3G and now 4G networks to deliver increasingly fast data speeds to their customers.
As with any network based on radio technologies, there are black spots in these networks that are caused by the terrain and building structures that may exist between the position of your mobile broadband modem and their closest tower.
Telstra operate the largest 3G and 4G networks, however you do pay a premium for that coverage compared to the other networks. For most people, a mobile broadband service that runs on either the Optus or Vodafone networks should be sufficient, however we strongly recommend that you check the coverage maps first for the areas you’re likely to be using it in.
If you’re mainly travelling in metro areas or large regional hubs, all three networks should provide sufficient coverage. However, the more rural that you get, the more likely it will be that you will need to purchase a service from Telstra.
The great thing with the long expiry prepaid services is that you can have a backup mobile broadband service from Telstra if you are outside of an Optus or Vodafone coverage area.
Do I Need 4G Access?
When it comes to internet speeds, nobody wants to be stuck on a slow connection. 3G internet speeds can reach up to 42 Mbps on all three of the 3G networks in Australia, and most people can obtain average speeds around 5-10 Mbps depending on the area that they are in and the level of congestion on your closest tower.
If you’re doing some internet browsing and sending/receiving e-mails, 3G speeds will be fine. Even video streaming will work OK on most 3G connections, although it will benefit from the speeds offered by a 4G network. We would recommend going with a 4G connection if you wanted to do any live video calling (Skype, etc) or anything data intensive like uploading large photos or downloading large files.