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Since ASUS came out with their original Eee PC I've always travelled with a netbook computer.

I've travelled to many countries, rich and poor recently and everywhere there is free Wi-Fi at least in hostels if not in public places.

But in Australia this is not the case!

I know there are "USB dongles" which can plug into the USB port of a computer and provide internet access with various telephone / internet providers. But I know very little about them - in fact I don't even know if this is the correct or most common name for these devices.

I would like to know if there is one such "dongle" which clearly offers the best value for money in Australia. I know this could be subjective if all are pretty similar or if the pros and cons make it not clear at all. That's why I've asked as a yes/no question. If one is easily the best to choose that's a great answer - if it's not easy to choose for whichever reason then "no" with some explanation is also a great answer. Another great answer would be a reference which compares the dongles and plans from various providers that would choose one.

Locked ZTE and Huawei wireless broadband dongles
Two locked wireless broadband dongles I have but can't use. One by ZTE and one by Huawei.

By "best" I'm only asking about value for money. Assume use in major cities and not in the outback - so coverage is not a concern.

(It's true I'm no longer travelling but this question seems as travel-related as the many data-plan questions we have for phones and tablets. Also I work in a hostel and I would like to share the findings with travellers staying there who have the same question.)

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"3G dongles", usually. Which you plug into your USB and it talks to a cellphone provider for internet. At least, that's what they're called in the UK. –  Mark Mayo Dec 9 '12 at 3:30
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Wifi refers to wireless local area networking(802.11b/g most likely) which your eeepc will have built in. I think you mean cellular internet (also wireless), most likely 3g (possibly 4g) –  Stuart Dec 9 '12 at 3:30
    
I have one I was given in Romania for free by a friend who worked for a telecom there, and a Vodafone one a friend here gave me with no credit on it which might even need a new SIM I suppose. I'll add photos when I can. –  hippietrail Dec 9 '12 at 3:35
    
I suggest changing the term to "wireless dongle", as (most likely) you're not referring to a device that creates a wifi hotspot or connects to a wifi, but one that uses cellular data. –  Jonik Dec 9 '12 at 6:52
    
@Jonik: I'd suggest removing the term "dongle" completely, as I've only ever heard it used to mean copy-protection components that come with expensive software. –  Michael Borgwardt Dec 9 '12 at 14:20
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3 Answers 3

Australia's telecommunications infrastructure is sub-par. In my home in the Perth suburbs, 3G coverage is very weak. Any significant distance from the capitals, you may find getting any kind of signal difficult.

Check your itinerary against these coverage maps before you buy:

In general, Telstra provide the best coverage in regional areas - but this generally comes at the cost of less data at a higher price.

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There is an important distinction to make between the UMTS/3G USB stick, which is the hardware that allows your computer to connect to a base station, and the contract you have with a mobile network provider to allow you to use their infrastructure, embodied by a SIM card that plugs into the USB stick.

You need both, and they need to be compatible, which means the USB stick must be "unlocked" to work with any network, or you can only use it with the network that it was originally sold for (which MAY work internationally if it's the same company). Sticks that you buy separately (i.e. without a mobile contract) should always be unlocked. For the others, there is typically a way to unlock after a certain period (up to 2 years).

If one of the two USB sticks you own is unlocked, all you need is a contract and SIM card from an Australian network. If not, you have to buy a bundle of both USB stick and contract in Australia.

In 2009, I got such a bundle from Vodafone, which included 1GB of data for 1 month and cost 100 dollars. Nowadays there should be better offers. Most electronics shops in Australia should have several in stock and give you advice on which suits your needs best.

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Thanks Michael. Another thing, since they just take SIM cards and I want to use it just for data, putting any SIM card from a non-smart phone won't work will it. I don't know how phone and data stuff is differenatiated by the device or the SIM card \-: –  hippietrail Dec 9 '12 at 22:43
    
Just put in a sim card with a data plan, and put in the settings for the network and you're done! It's very easy... –  Gagravarr Dec 9 '12 at 22:46
    
At this very moment, amazysim are looking the best option (I'm off to buy one in about 10 minutes!), but 6 months ago Virgin Mobile Australia were the best. Changes very often, so do some research / use a price comparison site just before you want to buy –  Gagravarr Dec 9 '12 at 22:47
    
@hippietrail: the SIM card will work just fine, but the contract probably won't cover data, or charge horrendous rates for it. But many contracts have a system of add-ons you can book where you e.g. pay an additional $15 per month for 1GB of data. –  Michael Borgwardt Dec 10 '12 at 8:11
    
I'm now looking into unlocking either my Huawei Kd771 or ZTE MF190 USB modems if possible to use with Amaysim pay-as-you-go. Or I might buy a Vodaphone SIM for the Huawei and see if the limits are too restrictive for me... –  hippietrail Dec 11 '12 at 6:04
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The best option I can find is this one from Optus that gets you the dongle (yes, that's the right term) plus 5 GB over two months for $90. Each of the main telcos have very limited options in the prepaid USB dongle area - Telstra's best offer is $60 for 2 GB over a month; Vodafone don't appear to have any; Virgin may have some but their website appears broken to me.

Most of the resellers appear to be contract-only as well (12 or 24 months).

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