We reported last month that iiNet was planning to offer 4G services, and now they're here. A range of 4G wireless broadband plans along with a choice of two modems are on offer.
iiNet's new 4G plans
Let's start with the plans. The entry level option provides 5GB of data per month for $34.95. The other three attract a $5 discount if combined with most iiNet fixed broadband or mobile phone services, and have quotas of 10GB ($39.95), 15GB ($59.95) and 20GB ($79.95). Excess data is charged at 2c/MB. A USB modem is included in these rates, or you can save $5 by taking the 'bring your own' option. [Update: this paragraph has been updated to clarify the cost of plans without the $5 discount]
The company claims this is "Australia's most affordable 4G broadband service" so how does that compare with what's on offer from Telstra or Optus?
What do Telstra's plans cost?
Telstra's plans start at $39.95 for 1GB per month (on a 12 or 24 month contract), $49.95 for 4GB, $59.95 for 8GB, and $109.95 for 15GB. These prices are discounted by $10 for customers with a HomeLine Plus fixed line service, or $20 for those with HomeLine Plus and either a Telstra post-paid mobile, Foxtel from Telstra, or BigPond ADSL or cable broadband.
The plans also include a USB modem (a mobile Wi-Fi modem is offered for $119 on a new 12 month plan or $49 on a new 24 month plan), and instead of charging for excess data, Telstra simply slows the connection once the monthly limit has been reached.
What do Optus' plans cost?
Optus has three plans: $34.95 for 10GB, $54.95 for 15GB, and $74.95 for 20GB, which is the same as iiNet's BYO rates, but Optus charges an extra $11 per month over 12 months if you want a USB modem. If you prefer the Mini WiFi modem that allows up to five devices to share the connection, that costs $15 per month on top of the plan.
So iiNet's claim seems justified in that its prices are the same as Optus's on a SIM-only basis, cheaper if you bundle with another iiNet service (Optus's product pages make no mention of bundling options), and the company has the cheapest service-plus-modem plan. Telstra either offers less data for the same money, or charges more for the same quota. That said, it provides wider coverage. [Update: this paragraph has been added to clarify the advantages of iiNet's plans]
Check your coverage
Since iiNet is using the Optus 4G network, service is currently available only in the Sydney, Perth, Melbourne and Newcastle metro areas. Telstra's 4G service has a much wider footprint ("more than 100 metropolitan and regional centres, including all capital cities"). Either way, you should check that 4G service is available where you want to use it, as you'll fall back to the 3G service in other areas.
The devices supplied by iiNet are the MobiiBroadband 4G - a basic USB modem that costs $189 outright or at no extra cost on a 24 month iiNet 4G contract - and the iiNet MobiiHotspot 4G mobile wi-fi router.
The latter allows the connection to be shared among up to 10 devices, and costs $229 outright or $49 on a 24-month contract.
Why would you want 4G?
In a word, speed. Optus is circumspect when it comes to quoting speeds, but suggests it's about twice as fast as the company's 3G service.
Telstra is more direct, claiming "typical download speeds" in capital CBDs from 2Mbps to 40Mbps for 4G compared with 1.1Mbps to 20Mbps for 3G.
But unless you spend most of your time in an area with 4G service from your chosen carrier, you might as well stick with 3G for the moment.