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Choosing an Australian Mobile Telco for use with Android

Since playing with the IBM Seer augmented reality software [1] I’ve been lusting after a new mobile phone which can do such things. While the implementation of Seer that I tried was not of great practical use to me (not being a tennis fan I was only there to learn about computers) it was a demonstration of an exciting concept. It will surely be implemented by IBM in other venues that are of more immediate interest, and we can probably expect other vendors to write similar systems to compete with IBM.

So the question is how to get a phone that will run such things well. The answer is probably not to rely on a contract plan for this, currently Vodaphone [2] is currently the only Australian telco that sells a phone that can run Seer, it is offering a HTC Magic (which was released in April 2009) on a $29 per month plan. A phone that is 9 months old isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the has been out for more than 6 months and has some significant benefits (such as a 5MP camera).

  • My current provider is Three [3] and their cheapest plan is $29 per month (with or without a phone) which allows 200 minutes ($160) of free calls to other Three phones every month as well as up to $150 of other calls per month and 1GB of data. Calls cost 40c per 30 seconds plus 35c connection fee. Currently I’m on a plan that gives me the same thing for the same price without data transfer but which includes a “free” phone. So it seems that the 1GB of data per month has an equal cost to a mobile handset (such as an LG Viewty).
  • Virgin [6] has a $25 per month plan that gives $60 worth of calls and 300MB of Internet data with unlimited talk and text between members with the added bonus of unused talk and text credit being rolled over to the next month. The cost for calls is 90c per minute plus 40c connection fee, video calls are the same cost as voice calls!
  • Vodaphone [2] has a $20 per month phone plan that allows up to $150 of calls per month with the option of either free calls to a single specified Vodaphone number or free calls in the evenings and weekends. They have a $4.95 special offer for 200MB of Internet data per month. Calls cost 44c per 30 seconds plus 35c connection fee.
  • Telstra [4] has a $20 per month plan that only includes $20 worth of calls and which has call fees of 47c per 30 seconds plus 27c connection fee. They clearly don’t compete on price, I think that there is no reason for using Telstra unless you live in some of the rural regions where they are the only provider to offer good service.
  • Savvytel [7] charges $3.07 for GPRS Internet data so they can’t be considered for an Internet enabled phone. But they do seem very economical for basic phone service.
  • Optus [5] has a hopelessly broken web site that wouldn’t give me any information on mobile phone pricing. My previous experience with Optus Internet makes me unlikely to do business with them again anyway.

So it seems that Three (my current provider) is probably the best option at this time. Virgin would save my $4 per month, but would only give me 300M of Internet data per month, and the Virgin limit of $60 per month of calls might not be enough for me. Vodaphone offers a deal for $25 that only includes 200MB of data, that might be enough for just phone use, but wouldn’t be enough for tethering for laptop net access.

I wonder how well tethering works on an Android phone, can you make a phone call while transmitting data from a tethered laptop? I find that with my Viewty when I receive an SMS or phone call it stops the net access. That makes a tethered Viewty impractical for some support tasks as it’s fairly common that I need to talk to someone while logging in to their server – I’m sure that most people who use mobile Internet services regularly need to phone someone while using them.

My current Three bill is $29 per month for the phone plan and $15 per month for Internet access. If I’m going to buy phones outright instead of getting them with the plan then I want to reduce the overall amount of money I spend on phone plans and using tethering instead of a 3G USB dongle would allow this. I think that I can get something that comes close to my ideal mobile phone [8] (apart from being able to connect a keyboard, mouse, and monitor) if I import it from overseas.

We really need more competition in the Australian mobile phone market. We have only two phone companies offering Android phones, Three is sold out of the obsolete model that they offer while Vodaphone has stock of an obsolete model.

5 comments to Choosing an Australian Mobile Telco for use with Android

  • I think you might need root access on your Android to enable tethering.. as far as I recall reading somewhere, the android doesn’t to tethering.

    See this project (which requires root):
    “http://code.google.com/p/android-wifi-tether/”

    Anyway, worth double checking..

    On the carrier side, Three’s service should improve post merge with Vodafone. They’ll now fall back to Vodafone’s 2G instead of Telstra roaming when you drop out of a 3G zone. Having said that, I’ve dumped Three for Virgin because 3G was horrible at my place for some reason. Phone call drop outs, can’t send messages without going outside and standing on the balcony or resetting my phone. Virgin has much better 3G support (on Optus network), no issues yet.

    -c

  • etbe

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mobile_network_operators_of_the_Asia_Pacific_region#Australia

    It seems that Virgin is using the Optus network, so Optus deserves the credit for good Virgin reception (while Virgin deserves credit for not being Optus).

    I was under the impression that Three always roamed to Vodaphone 2G on occasion. That said Telstra does cover a much greater area so if you travel far enough out of the city you will probably end up on Telstra – or without access.

  • One thing you may want to take into account. Last time I spoke to a Telstra representative they told me the reason Telstra don’t sell the Android phones was because they didn’t support Telstra’s NextG (which is apparently different than normal 3G) meaning you may not even be able to use their higher speed connection.

    This was just a Telstra Shop employee however so it with a grain of salt but worth double checking.

    This would suggest the same: http://forums.whirlpool.net.au/forum-replies-archive.cfm/1105463.html

  • to have tethering, you need to use PDAnet or get root access, which
    isn’t amazingly hard to get on any of them at the moment. Though the
    ADP1 and Nexus One are more open to that.

    For data + voice/sms/whatever, you need to be on UMTS. On GSM/GPRS/EDGE,
    you can have data or voice, but not both simultaneously.

  • etbe

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nextg

    Todd: According to the NextG wikipedia page, Telstra uses 3G UMTS at 850MHz.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A855

    The Motorolla A855 “Droid” uses 900MHz and 2100MHz for the European version (800MHz and 1900MHz for the US version which probably has differences other than the frequency difference).

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Htc_magic

    The HTC Magic apparently does 900, 1700, and 2100MHz in UMTS. It seems likely to work on CDMA, but CDMA devices will probably mess up the network for everyone else so Telstra won’t want to sell them.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HTC_Hero

    The HTC Hero apparently does 850MHz UMTS in the US version, so it seems likely to work. So it seems to me that the Telstra shop employee was basically correct, but that the HTC Hero now allows them to sell Android phones. But as I previously noted, Telstra clearly don’t compete on price so I won’t be doing business with them.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mobile_network_operators_of_the_Asia_Pacific_region#Australia

    The above URL is the canonical list of Australian Mobile phone operators which is useful for ongoing research on this issue.