Vodafone and Optus in mobile broadband war

Mobile broadband is taking a price dive this Christmas, with Vodafone and Optus trotting out low priced plans with high download quotas. But Telstra says its competitors' networks are too slow and offer limited coverage.

Vodafone and Optus are offering low-cost mobile broadband contracts with high download limits this Christmas, but Telstra says its competitors' networks are still "too slow" and offer poor coverage.

Vodafone announced a AU$39 per month 5GB (uploads included) mobile broadband plan on a 24-month contract, which Vodafone's data-marketing manager Tim Cowan touts as "five times more value at almost half the price [than competitors]". The plan will only be available until the end of December, leaving little time for indecision.

A Telstra spokesperson criticised the "low cost" offer on the grounds that Vodafone's network is too slow and offers limited coverage. "Telstra's networks are double the speed and double the size of the other networks," the spokesperson told ZDNet Australia.

However Cowan pointed out that consumers need to evaluate the importance of coverage outside metropolitan areas. "The customer's own value equation needs to be 'how many times do I travel outside the city?'," he said.

Vodafone's 3G broadband network uses High-Speed Downlink Packet Access (HSDPA) technology to deliver speeds between 600kbps and 1.5 Mbps to the metropolitan areas of Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, Canberra, Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, Adelaide and Perth, as well as all the major airports across the country.

Outside of these metropolitan areas, Vodafone mobile Internet operates at slower access and download speeds on Vodafone's GPRS network.

The USB modem and E800 Expresscard -- the user gets either one free with the 24-month deal -- operate currently on the 3.6Mbps network standard, but are capable of operating on the 7.2 Mbps standard, so customers will not need to buy a new device when Vodafone upgrades its 3G network, said Cowan.

The new plan hits "the sweet spot" for consumers, Cowan said, adding that it "ends the traditional view that mobile broadband is the exclusive domain of business customers".

Vodafone has "made allowances" for existing customers. Current Vodafone customers are able move to the new plan while keeping the contract terms of their old plan. There is no cost to move from plans of lower value, but customers on plans of higher value will have to pay a penalty of AU$15 per forfeited month.

Optus has also jumped on the low price mobile broadband bandwagon, offering a 2GB limit for AU$39.99 a month, but only when linked with an Optus mobile or business phone.

Cowan said there are "no hidden catches" such as linking with other services necessary for receiving the Vodafone deal.

The Vodafone deal also has an edge over the Optus one, he said, in that the Optus USB modem, although free, is on a rental arrangement, while the Vodafone USB modem or Expresscard is owned by the user.

The "unique to Vodafone" data optimisation service, available on all Vodafone plans, is also an advantage of Vodafone broadband, Cowan said. The service compresses downloaded data up to a third. If a user downloads a 100KB site, it will only be 66.6KB after being compressed, so the user is able to use less of their download quota.

Optus was unable to comment by publication time on their pricing comparative to Vodafone.