Cheap 3G Data in Australia

The Request

I was asked for advice about cheap 3G data plans. One of the people who asked me has a friend with no home Internet access, the friend wants access but doesn’t want to pay too much. I don’t know whether the person in question can’t use ADSL/Cable (maybe they are about to move house) or whether they just don’t want to pay for it.

3G data in urban areas in Australia is fast enough for most Internet use. But it’s not good for online games or VOIP. It’s also not very useful for Youtube and other online video. There is a variety of 3G speed testing apps for Android phones and there are presumably similar apps for the iPhone. Before signing up for 3G at home it’s probably best to get a friend who’s on the network in question to test Internet speed at your house, it would be annoying to sign up for an annual contract and then discover that your home is in a 3G dead spot.

Cheapest Offers

The best offer at the moment for moderate data use seems to be Amaysim with 10G for $99.90 and an expiry time of 365 days [1]. 10G in a year isn’t a lot, but it’s pre-paid so the user can buy another 10G of data whenever they want. At the moment $10 for 1G of data in a month and $20 for 2G of data in a month seem to be common offerings for 3G data in Australia. If you use exactly 1G per month then Amaysim isn’t any better than a number of other telcos, but if your usage varies (as it does with most people) then spreading the data use over several months offers significant savings without the need to save big downloads for the last day of the month.

For more serious Internet use Virgin has pre-paid offerings of 6G for $30 and 12G for $40 which has to be used in a month [2]. Anyone who uses an average of more than 3G per month will get better value from the Virgin offers.

If anyone knows of cheaper options than Amaysim and Virgin then please let me know.

Better Coverage

Both Amaysim and Virgin use the Optus network which covers urban areas quite well. I used Virgin a few years ago (and presume that it has only improved since then) and my wife uses Amaysim now. I haven’t had any great problems with either telco. If you need better coverage than the Optus network provides then Telstra is the only option. Telstra have a number of prepaid offers, the most interesting is $100 for 10G of data that expires in 90 days [3].

That Telstra offer is the same price as the Amaysim offer and only slightly more expensive than Virgin if you average 3.3G per month. It’s a really good deal if you average 3.3G per month as you can expect it to be faster and have better coverage.

Which One to Choose?

I think that the best option for someone who is initially connecting their home via 3g is to start with Amaysim. Amaysim is the cheapest for small usage and they have an Amaysim Android app and web page for tracking usage. After using a few gig of data on Amaysim it should be possible to determine which plan is going to be most economical in the long term.

Connecting to the Internet

To get the best speed you need a 4G AKA LTE connection. But given that 3G speed is great enough to use expensive amounts of data it doesn’t seem necessary to me. I’ve done a lot of work over the Internet with 3G from Virgin, Kogan, Aldi, and Telechoice and haven’t felt a need to pay for anything faster.

I think that the best thing to do is to use an old phone running Android 2.3 or iOS 4.3 as a Wifi access point. The cost of a dedicated 3G Wifi AP is enough to significantly change the economics of such Internet access and most people have access to old smart phones.

4 comments to Cheap 3G Data in Australia

  • iinet currently have 20GB for $74.95 and Vaya have a 10GB for $55 (I managed to sign up when it was $33 and they are still honouring it though – there prices move around so worth watching). Both of these are Optus, which despite some myths actually work extremely well in _many_ regional areas now (I suspect because they’ve been upgrading their networks and everyone in the area still uses Telstra leaving their network a little idle).

    I’m currently using those two together to successfully work remotely in the Central Victorian bush – including video conferencing (mostly over Google Hangouts) and I’m able to watch YouTube with less buffering than I used to get on Melbourne ADSL at 720P – although I tend to lower the resolution as 30GB a month still isn’t much data allowance.

    One thing I’ve found is that my speeds are terrible when using an old Android phone (I tried doing this to use the inbuilt data cut outs for a while) so I’ve switched to a dedicated device ( with a small passive aerial to raise the height my signal is sending/receiving from.

    Gaming would still be a stretch with 60ms average pings to the first hop and the odd packet taking a lot longer (~1000ms).

  • David: Thanks for that information. I doubt that the person who asked would be interested in paying $55 per month (going from $0 to $55 per month is a big jump) but they might choose that later on when they get used to home Internet.

    One advantage of a dedicated 3G-Wifi device is that you can find the best location for signal. I once stayed at a holiday home where the only place for good 3G signal was to put my phone on a chair in a corner of the upper floor. This wasn’t convenient when I had to answer the phone…

    It’s strange that IInet is advertising cheaper rates for 4G than 3G.

  • Re cheaper rates for 4G, you’ll probably find for any of the post paid plans this is true at the moment – for whatever reason all the providers only want to sell 4G plans (I also noticed all of their “usage trackers” are 48 hours behind – so maybe it’s because they expect you to go over).

    Re dedicated device – there is something else going on too, I had a Samsung Galaxy N7000 that I was using with CyanogenMod on it v.s the e589. With both placed in (as near as feasible) the same spot, the N7000 would lose a lot more packets, get about half the download rate (according to and average at least a 20% longer ping. I also tried an older HTC with similar results. So I do think it’s worth looking in to something dedicated if 3G/4G will be the only internet connection for any length of time (but I could have just had two bad Androids).


  • IMKenny

    Why not Vodafone’s prepaid mobile broadband recharge of 15GB for 365 days at $125 ($8.33 per GB)? Vodafone works out cheaper per GB than Amaysim ($9.99 per GB) AND Vodafone bills data usage by the kilobyte, not the megabyte (as Amaysim do, I believe). So Vodafone would work out even cheaper in practice as they don’t round up every session to the megabyte, just to the kilobyte. So if you have two sessions each of 500 kilobytes, Amaysim would charge you for 2 megabytes while Vodafone would just charge you for 1 megabyte. The Vodafone recharge also includes 50 SMS, but no voice call credits. You can receive voice calls but you cannot make voice calls with the Vodafone data SIM unless you use something like Skype or Viber.

    And Vodafone supports 4G as well as 3G.

    You can buy the SIM and stick it in a cheap Android phone and use the Wifi Hotspot. You don’t need to use the SIM in a dongle or modem.