Road warriors set to iBurst with joy

Pulling apart the new plansPBA's streamlined plans for its iBurst network mix mostly solid wins formobile mavens with swings and roundabouts for desktop users.The entry-level Intro Low plan remains the same as iBurst's oldstarter desktop plan - 256kbps/64kbps with 200MB of downloads at $29.

Pulling apart the new plans
PBA's streamlined plans for its iBurst network mix mostly solid wins for mobile mavens with swings and roundabouts for desktop users.

The entry-level Intro Low plan remains the same as iBurst's old starter desktop plan - 256kbps/64kbps with 200MB of downloads at $29.95 per month. However, like all plans this is now available to notebook customers using the iBurst PC Card modem, for whom the cheapest seat was previously $49.95 (albeit for a faster 512kbps/128kbps connection with 300MB of downloads).

The Intro Medium plan slips in at $34.95 for 512kbps/128kbps with 200MB, followed by the 1Mbps/256kbps Intro High scheme for $39.95 per month. Both of these should appeal to casual users doing light-duty e-mail and Web browsing, and could be especially compelling to mobile users.

The Standard Low plan offers a little more overhead for downloads at 500MB per month on a 256kbps/64kbps link for $44.95. Like the 256kbps Intro Low package, such relatively meagre speeds are about providing a mobile Internet experience focused more on convenience than throughput. Existing iBurst customers on the closest current plan (with the same speed but 400MB of data) gain an extra 100MB of downloads but will have to pay $10 per month for the privilege.

The old $44.95 desktop plan of 512kbps/128kbps and 400MB has been axed, with customers facing a delightful choice: pay an extra $5 per month and get 500MB of downloads at the same speed under the Standard Medium scheme for $49.95, or step up to the faster clip of 1Mbps/256kbps with the same 500MB cap under the $54.95 Standard High plan.

This is also where laptop users start to reap their benefits. The Standard Medium plan represents an extra 200MB of data at the same speed and price at iBurst's current entry-level 300MB mobile package. Alternatively, they can ease back to a limit of 200MB and save $15 per month by shifting to the Intro Medium plan.

Power users will aim straight for the Pro plans, which are all rated at 1Mbps/256kbps. However, as previously noted, the upstream speed for all 1MB plans (including the Intro High and Standard High packages) is pegged at iBurst's previous 345kbps rate, as the 256kbps label exists only to assist customers in comparing plans between carriers.

The Pro Low plan marries 1Mbps/256kbps with 1GB of downloads for $74.95 -- a $10 per month increase on the previous equivalent desktop plan, but a $25 per month saving based on the previous matching notebook scheme.

Pro Medium sets the download bar to 2GB for $99.95 per month. iBurst's current equivalent desktop plan allows 3GB for $79.95, making this plan an odd adjustment involving more money for a smaller download cap. Once again, laptop users will wear the wider smile as they currently pay $99.95 for just 1GB per month.

The top-shelf Pro Plus plan stays at a 10GB ceiling but is now ticketed at $199.95, a $10 increase on the current desktop modems price.

update Mobile users will be the big winners in a radical revamp of iBurst wireless broadband plans which network operator Personal Broadband Australia will unveil tomorrow.

PBA has ditched the strategy of charging mobile iBurst subscribers who use a PC Card modem substantially higher prices with lower download limits compared with their desktop counterparts. For example, under the current scheme users of the desktop iBurst modem pay $79.95 per month for a 1Mbps connection with 3GB of data; the identical plan for laptop users costs $129.95 per month.

A PBA spokesperson declined to comment on the latest pricing model.

The nine plans (down from the current count of 12 across mobile and desktop platforms) have been grouped into three classes of Intro, Standard and Pro. PBA channel partners can rename these plans, and roll out their own roster based on reselling network capacity bought wholesale from the operator.

The revision in retail pricing implies a matching drop in these wholesale prices. But PBA's intent is a clear step towards a vastly simplified pricing structure. The revamp spikes the current 300MB, 400MB and 3GB plans in order to smooth out the range of download caps to ceilings of 200MB, 500MB (which appears to be the new sweet spot), 1GB, 2GB and 10GB.

The new pricing structure -- revealed in a retail price list obtained by ZDNet Australia -- eliminates the traditionally steep differential in favour of unified monthly charges and download caps which don't penalise the mobile-minded over their deskbound counterparts (see table below).

It seems the marketing team even won over the engineers by labelling the upstream channel of all 1Mbps plans as 256kbps -- although sources advise ZDNet Australia that the uplink will in fact remain pinned at the current 345kbps ceiling. The sole reason appears to be to make it easier for customers to window shop among the carriers, rather than serve them an unfamiliar figure.

The recast of plans also tweaks the mix of monthly charges and download allowances and shows that desktop subscribers with mid-range surfing habits could parlay a slight increase in their monthly charge for a welcome boost in downloads.

Popular iBurst reseller Chilli currently offers PBA's off-the-shelf desktop 512kbps plan with 400MB of data for $44.95 per month. Under the PBA's revised pricing schedule, users could step up to the 500MB Standard Medium plan for an extra $5 per month ($49.95) or throttle up to 1Mbps with the same download cap for $10 more ($54.95).

iBurst PC Card modem snug in a notebook
An iBurst PC Card modem snug in a notebook

However, other price points aren't quite so neat a fit. Because PBA has shelved all plans with a 400MB caps, the old desktop deal of 256kbps/400MB for $34.95 makes way for a $44.95 plan with only an extra 100MB to its name.

Similarly, the $59.95 512kbps/1GB desktop package has been edged out between a $49.95 plan with half the data allowance and a $74.95 plan which boosts speed to 1Mbps. Closer to the top end of town, the 1Mbps/1GB plan keeps the same speed/feed ratio but sees a $10 price bump from $64.95 to $74.95 per month.

But any pain among desktop users clearly becomes a huge gain for the mobile digerati - the same 1Mbps/1GB plan used to cost $99.95 if you connected through the iBurst PC Card modem, so laptop lovers get to pocket an extra $25 per month.

This mobile-friendly push is PBA's finely-tuned yet unmistakably 'bring it on' response to a hectic few months in the fast-moving mobile wireless broadband market. Telstra's entry into the arena with BigPond Wireless Broadband in October 2005 was followed by aggressive plan adjustments from Unwired, which then launched its own long-awaited notebook solution.

In the same timeframe, Vodafone and Optus unleashed 3G data cards to piggyback on their respective 3G networks. Long-standing 3G carrier 3 not only slashed its data prices, it started throwing in the PC Card for free.

While iBurst's plans largely fall short of those offered by primary competitor Unwired, but in its favour iBurst enjoys coverage well beyond Unwired's Sydney-only footprint.

PBA's iBurst network spans greater Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. In late December, PBA switched on a fill-in transmitter at Bondi to help service Sydney's notoriously patchy eastern suburbs, while the northern beaches picked up a few notches of signal strength with the commissioning of a relay station at Manly in January.

Coverage maps on the company's Web site show planned extensions of the service to Newcastle, Wollongong and Canberra, although PBA has yet to announce its timetable.

At the same time, while 3G carriers boast an even wider reach (especially with fallback onto their long-established GSM networks), users who rarely roam outside of Sydney or Melbourne will find the new iBurst mobile plans highly competitive -- especially the $99 1Mbps/2GB plan, which offers faster speed than 3G's peak of 384kbps along with a higher data allowance and equal or better prices than the premium plans of mobile broadband buffet champs Optus and Vodafone.

New PBA iBurst plans
Plan name Speed Monthly usage limit RRP (inc GST)
Intro Low256/64k200MB29.95
Intro Med512/128k200MB34.95
Intro High1Mbps/256k200MB39.95
Standard Low256/64k500MB44.95
Standard Medium512/128k500MB49.95
Standard High1Mbps/256k500MB54.95
Pro Low1Mbps/256k1GB74.95
Pro Medium1Mbps/256k2GB99.95
Pro Plus1Mbps/256k10GB *2d199.95

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