Mobile internet is great, but the cost of getting your plan wrong can be ugly. Here’s where to start your research for the best deal. PAUL WALLBANK
By Paul Wallbank
I love my mobile internet. Being able to access my emails, documents and websites from my phone is the best business tool I have. It means I can work anytime, anywhere.
But there is a downside to it. The cost of getting your plan wrong can be very ugly indeed. Last week’s SmartCompany report that Australians are wary of the costs of mobile broadband is hardly a surprise.
Thankfully, I’ve avoided big bills by choosing the right plan and this is essential to getting the most from mobile internet.
The nastiest shock comes in the form of excess usage charges. Most Australian internet plans have a data allowance and if you go over that allowance you are either slowed down or charged an excess rate.
It’s these excess charges that scare customers off, and quite rightly too. It’s easy to run up a bill into the thousands if you don’t choose the right plan.
The key is to choose a plan that suits your internet use. Some providers have better regional coverage while others have more generous data allowances.
You can also modify your internet usage to restrict data downloads. For instance I check my email through the web browser, which means I’m not downloading huge volumes of messages I won’t read.
Of the providers, Optus and Telstra have add-on data plans with very stingy download limits. They have the widest coverage, however and it’s difficult to go past Telstra if you want mobile internet access in regional areas.
Three Mobile has some generous allowances included in its plans, but coverage range is restricted and its roaming rate when you are in an area that doesn’t have a Three service is a simply hair raising $1650 per gigabyte.
Vodafone uses a timed model of an outrageous $12 an hour. This is against your mobile capped plan, so if you have a high enough plan, you won’t be charged an excess. Like Optus, its mobile browsing speeds drop in regional areas and coverage is patchy outside the major population centres.
Interestingly, Vodafone’s hourly internet rate is identical to what almost all the providers charge for Wi-Fi hotspots. Wi-Fi is different to mobile internet, being the same technology used in home and office wireless networks.
I’d argue the $12 an hour rate is what has killed hotspots stone dead in Australia. Overseas countries that don’t have this rip-off-the-customer rates have seen the use of hotspots explode. Sadly hotspot access here is a luxury reserved for expensive hotels and airport lounges.
There’s no doubt Australian wireless internet is being held back by high access costs. But it is a valuable business tool that can’t be ignored and so probably won’t go the path of hotspots.
By shopping around and seeing what your mobile provider can do, you can and should take advantage of what mobile broadband offers businesses. Do your research and watch your bills closely though.
Paul Wallbank is a writer, speaker and broadcaster on technology issues. He founded national support organisation PC Rescue in 1995 and has spent over 14 years helping businesses get the most from their IT investment. His PC Rescue and IT Queries websites provide free advice to business computer users and his monthly newsletter has over 3000 subscribers.
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Paul D Hauck writes: I signed up for a Vodafone plan with a PCMCIA data card for my tablet, just a few weeks ago, which is $29 (possibly $39? – I really shouldn’t have killed all those brain cells when younger) for 5GB per month. I got it specifically to avoid the risk of excess downloads when Windows decides to go get a service pack or something. They mentioned a data rider to a mobile phone plan, which sounded like what you mention – are you talking just about data plans to mobile phones, possibly?