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Mobile Broadband – Options and prices examined

Irish News of the World

May, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane

Broadband on the Move

In doing some research recently, I came across the mind boggling fact that there are 117million mobile broadband users in China – about 40% of all interest users. Even more extraordinary is that these Chinese surfers are doing so without the benefit of the superfast 3G mobile broadband technology.

By contrast, there are about 9million mobile broadband users in the whole of Europe, with 250,000 in Ireland.

Ireland has one of the biggest take ups of 3g mobile broadband of all European countries with almost 25% of all Irish broadband users now accessing the internet using their mobile phones according to ComReg.

Mobile Broadband

Mobile broadband is sold in two ways – directly on your phone through a data “add-on” package, or a separate broadband modem with a SIM card that you can use to connect your laptop or netbook to the internet no matter where you are.

All 4 main mobile providers in Ireland will sell you a mobile broadband package, but like their other products, there are loads of choices which can confuse you into picking a package that isn’t really suitable for you.

Unfortunately, the CallCosts.ie website doesn’t yet provide a mobile broadband comparison functionality in the same way that they allow you compare phone call or text costs.

While mobile broadband can be brilliantly useful and convenient where it’s available and reliable, there are some pitfalls with mobile broadband that you should watch out for as otherwise you could end up costing yourself hundreds, if not thousands of euros.

Add On Data Packages

As I’ve highlighted before, mobile phone companies seem to specialise in providing product options designed to confuse the consumer. They do this with phone calls and text messages, and broadband data packages are no different.

So, the first thing to ensure you save your hard earned cash is to make sure you pick the right package.

If you’re a pay as you go customer and you just want a data bundle on your phone to access broadband internet data, then you’ll get the best value for money by using one of the daily packages provided by Meteor, O2 or Vodafone if you’re only going to have a small amount of usage every day. These will cost you €360 per year.

If you’ve larger usage, you could go for the Three monthly package which gives you 10gb of data usage for €300 per year.

You should avoid the Three weekly and daily packages as these could cost you between €200 and €1500 more than the other packages.

As a pay monthly customer, the data packages on your mobile are far poorer value across all 4 mobile companies. The problem with these packages is that they charge you per month, but they provide you with very small amounts of data per month.

The worst value is the Meteor €9.99 per month package which will cost you €120 per year, but for only 3GB of data – O2 provide the same package for a saving of €30 per month – but it’s still poor value for money.

If you need more data per month, then either Meteor or O2 provide 10gb data bundles for €360 per year. The best value is the Three €19.99 package for 10gb per month – which at €240 for the year is a saving of €120.

Broadband Modem Packages

The biggest focus for the mobile companies at the moment appears to be the mobile broadband modem market where you must buy a standalone “dongle” (or broadband modem) that will allow laptop users connect to the internet while on the move. This broadband modem has it’s own SIM card for connecting to the network and you then pay a monthly contract to connect to the internet.

As a pay monthly customer, you’ll get the best value for money when it comes to getting broadband from the mobile companies. The best value for money out there is the O2 basic modem package where you’ll get 120gb of data for the year for €379.

Vodafone and Meteor provide cheaper deals, around €235 per year, but you only get half the amount of data – 60gb.

Downloading abroad

The simple piece of advice here is to not use your data package when you’re abroad. The European Commission is addressing the high costs that mobile phone companies charge their customers for data when they’re roaming, but until then, it’s best to completely avoid this.

As a comparison, in Ireland you can get 50mb of data for 99c as a pay as you go customer. If you’re roaming abroad, that same 50mb will cost you €14.58 in Europe and €30.28 in the rest of the world if you’re a Vodafone pay monthly customer. 50mb of data is the equivalent of about 2 albums of music

Out of Bundle Usage

The worst scare story of someone getting caught out using their mobile phone for data while abroad was one person in the UK who came home to a bill for over £22,000.

Going over the top

The third key thing to watch out for when you’re using your mobile broadband – on your phone or through a modem – is to make very sure that you don’t go over your data limits.

If you have a package that gives you 500mb or 10gb, it will prove very expensive for you to go over those limits.

ValueIreland.com has been told horror stories by readers of getting nasty surprises from their mobile bills from going over their data package limits. Sometimes, if you’re very early on in your usage, the companies might let you off if you tell them you didn’t understand the pricing, but most times, you’ll end up paying. Some people have ended up paying from €200 extra to €1200 extra for one month because of this mistake.

Most companies charge an extra 2c for each kb that you use over and above your limit – that’s the equivalent of an extra an extra €60 just to download one extra music track to your phone, or nearly €500 for one album.

This just shows the importance of picking your correct tariff when you sign up in the first place.

Don’t pay at all

If you’re keen to have your internet and e-mails with you on your mobile phone, then the final tip for you is how to not pay at all.

Many phones these days provide a connection will allow you connect to a WIFI internet connection. If you’re smart, you can now find places all around the country that provide free WIFI which therefore get your broadband internet on the move, but at zero cost.

Click here for a link that will provide you with information and links to a map of Ireland that shows where the free WIFI hotspots are around the country.

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