Australia 2010

A circumnavigation (with risks).

Mobile Internet Access in Oz.

This page is probably only of interest if you are intending to tour Australia in a campervan for many months and require lots of Internet access, even then it's fairly boring. You have been warned.

One of the things that we have sorted out whilst waiting for Man to arrive is Internet access on the move in Australia.

One of the advantages of being in the same country for the whole of a "long trip" is that it makes sense to buy a local mobile phone, SIM card or 3G modem. Something that is rarely worth while doing when moving from country to country. As in the UK there are multiple network "brands" and multiple offers to choose from. Probably the most important criteria to consider if you are touring the interior is coverage. Unlike the UK, in Australia there are very significant differences in coverage between the available networks. A network may cover 98% of the population but still only 10% of the land area!

Luckily all the major networks have shops on Queen Street (the main shopping street in the centre of Brisbane). Naturally the networks try to present themselves as having the best combination of facilities, freebies and costs. After a quick look at what Vodafone, 3, Optus, Virgin and Telstra had to offer it became apparent that what was needed were two "wireless broadband modems" on two different networks. One cheap, fast and limited to the densely populated areas and one for the more remote areas.

Perhaps the best advice we got was from "3" they said "don't buy from us go to Telstra their coverage is far better". When you strip out the gimmicks and obfuscating presentation all the networks offer a 3(ish)G modem at between €40 and €55 and pre-pay credit at vastly different costs and shelf life.

Note that it is apparently not possible to sign up for any post-pay "plan" whilst on a tourist visa. Also all SIM cards and wireless modems have to be registered with the state and/or federal government at the time of purchase.

Before comparing the various offers it is worth getting a feel for the cost of Internet access by other means. The costs below are for 1MB (mega byte) of data in Euros.

  • €0.002 - Typical monthly landline home broadband contract in the UK.
  • €5.03 - BGAN Satellite modem pre-pay, worldwide.
  • €5.62 - UK Vodafone pre-pay mobile phone used in Australia.

The best Australian "wireless broadband" service we found as far as coverage was from Telstra. If you buy the maximum top-up of $100.00Aus this works out at an attractive €0.011 per MB. Unfortunately this top-up only has a shelf-life of 30 days. You can extend this shelf-live by another 30 days by topping up with say $20.00Aus but there is a major catch in the small print. All your credit is now reduced to the poor $20 rate of €0.09 per MB. So the Telstra service is best kept for low volume use in remote areas.

The best Australian "wireless broadband" service we found as far as price was from Virgin. If you buy the maximum top-up of $149.00Aus this works out at an attractive €0.010 per MB with a shelf-life of 365 days. So the Virgin service is the one to use (if in the Virgin coverage area).

To give some idea of the cost of using the Virgin "wireless broadband", the €0.010 per MB translates into about €0.04 per minute to use video Skype to call (say) the UK.

Naturally by the time you get to Australia all these rates will have changed and you will have to do the arithmetic again yourself.