In case you haven't been paying attention, the fight is on for your mobile broadband dollar. A mobile broadband connection comes in the form of a USB dongle or a card you insert in to your computer (Express 34 card) and lets you access the Internet from just about anywhere in Australia (and overseas if you pay excessive roaming charges). The latest generation of mobile broadband uses a technology called HSDPA (High Speed Data Packet Access). But don't worry about what the letters stand for, all you need to know is that you'll get really fast Internet. Most mobile broadband packages are pitched at business users, but with some of the latest pricing options they'll appeal to home users as well.
All major telcos provide a high speed wireless broadband service including Telstra (Next G), Optus, 3 and Vodafone, and all rely on similar HSDPA technology. The challenge then, is to figure out which gives you the best value for money, and whether the service you choose will be available in the area you need it, for example Next G covers 98% of the population, while Vodafone HSDPA covers only major city centres.
While Vodafone doesn't offer the most extensive coverage it currently offer the best value mobile broadband in Australia. For $39 you'll get 5GB of data a month, and a free USB or ExpressCard modem when you sign up on a 24 month contract. Vodafone customers also enjoy the benefit of Vodafone’s tried and tested optimisation software that compresses around 30 per cent of data throughput. Optimisation helps to reduce costs through increased efficency and delivers data faster to customers.
3 also have pretty compelling plans and have just launched their 'half price Mobile Broadband offer' which is available now until the 15th of Janurary. That means all of 3's mobile broadband plans are half price for the entire length of the the contract, not just for a limited period as other telcos offer. 3 offer a range of different plans to suit different budgets and even offer a 'bundling' plan where, assuming you have another 3 service (like a mobile phone) you'll get 1GB of data for $14.50. For comparison however, their 5GB costs $49.50 or $10 more than the equivalent Vodafone plan, and only comes with a USB modem, where Vodafone give users the choice between two modems.
A comparable Optus plan will get you 2GB for $40 per month and is only available to existing landline or mobile subscribers. Their 'Turbo-G' network (not be mistaken with Telstras 'Next G' network) runs at the same 3.6Mbps HSDPA speeds as Vodafone and 3's. While Vodafone and 3 provide modems for free Optus charges customers an extra $5-$10 based on the contract length and device, and maintains ownership of the modem and continues charging you a fee, even once your contract expires.
If you're looking for more speed and better coverage than the standard HSDPA that Vodafone, 3 and Optus provide look to Telstra's Next G network. With the latest '7.2' data card you'll be able to get speeds of 7.2Mbps but for more money. First off you'll need to purchase a 7.2 data card which will set you back $349 and then choose a plan, the cheapest being $34.95 for 10 hours of access. As a comparison, the 'best' plan is a 3GB plan which will set you back $114.95 per month. Bigpond have a special promotion at the moment where you can get all plans half price for the first six months and a $299 rebate off a modem when you commit to a three year plan.
I've tested most providers cards and services and have found very little difference in terms of speed or setup in city areas. All the software you need is supplied for both Windows and Mac (although most providers haven't updated their software for Leopard, the latest version of Mac OS X). The ultimate decision then is really about value, except if you need the coverage and extra speed offered by Telstra (I'd expect the other providers to 'bump' the speeds of their networks some time next year). The $39 for 5GB from Vodafone is unbeatable at the moment and is the best way to jump in to the mobile broadband revolution.
Best plan: 5GB for $39/month, 24 month contract, Free USB or ExpressCard modem
Best Plan: 5GB for $49.50/month, 24 month contract, Free USB modem
Best Plan: 3GB for $57.47/month (for first 6 months, then $114.95), 36 month contract, $349 for modem ($299 rebate available)
Best Plan: 2GB for $49.99 (or $39.99 in a bundle), 24 month contract, $5/month for modem (or $120 over two years) plus $5 per month after your contract expires.