Previously the cost of mobile broadband in New Zealand was prohibitive, but now, thanks to the arrival of prepay, it has become more affordable and controllable. After months of deliberation, for the Christmas break, I finally hooked myself up.
I looked into mobile broadband about two years ago, and I am sure the "vodems" were NZ$199 then and with the costs of contracts, you would have been looking at several hundred dollars upfront.
In the run up to Christmas last year, we saw both Vodafone and Telecom NZ pushing their mobile broadband offerings, with the mobile sticks going for NZ$99, which includes about NZ$40 credit. Telecom NZ has even been giving away mobile sticks to its broadband customers, as long as you upload NZ$30 of credit onto it.
I went with Vodafone since I hope to get a Telecom stick when I sign up my own broadband account with it this year.
The salesperson in First Mobile, which runs the Vodafone franchise here, said Vodem sticks were last year's big Christmas sellers. It wasn't that actual costs had dropped that much, it's that the availability of prepay made them that much more appealing.
As for coverage, I was shown a map which suggested that as long as you are in a built-up area, or along a main State Highway, you should be fine. Two Christmases ago, I experimented with mobile broadband in Britain, using the 3 network. I was shown a map and told that only the 3 network might work in the small Yorkshire village my parents live in. But despite only being 15 kilometres from the city of York, where it worked beautifully, the "dongle" did not pick up acceptable coverage at my parents' house so I took it back for a refund.
As for my recent tests, the Vodafone system gave fast coverage in Orewa, a seaside town just 30 minutes north of Auckland. Like many Kiwis I hit the road over the Christmas break, so I enjoyed road-testing the system. Mobile broadband is a great convenience to be spared the hassle of looking around for a cybercafe to make that online booking to get the best deals for accommodation.
No longer will I also be at the mercy at the sometimes extortionate prices accommodation providers charge for internet access. Some motels now offer free broadband, while others may charge NZ$10 for a night's use. The Accor hotel chain seems the worst at NZ$10 for two hours or NZ$33.69 for 24 hours. And you often seem to use your data allowances before the time is up, incurring an even higher charge!
With the ending of this nice little earner, along with the ubiquity of mobile phones (with telcos offering deals like NZ$2 for up to two hours) it will make life tougher for the hotels and motels hoping that phone and internet charges will make up for discounted room provision. I wonder what they will do now?
As for the rest of us — tourist or person on a business trip — we will all benefit from the better affordability of mobile broadband, though I think I will stay off the data-hungry YouTube!