I'm a virgin - again

For a bit over a year I have had a Novatel Merlin U530 data card from 3 mobile. When my contract expired I started to look at churning. At first 3 insisted the card was network locked and couldn't be unlocked, "as stated in your contract". I read them what I had signed and mentioned the TIO, before the supervisor I had heard whispering in the background took the call and sorted out the unlocking.

3's service is good, if you are within the "broadband zone" (read within 35kms of an east coast capital city). The downsides of 3 are that once out of their coverage area, you roam on the Telstra GPRS network (and pay for every Kb on top of the monthly plan fee), and when you need customer service, you wait 20mins to talk to someone in India on a crappy VoIP connection. If the coverage was better and the N95 wasn't still "coming soon", I may have considered their X Series product.

I considered Vodafone, who I use for my phone, but I am not very impressed with VF. The phone I got under contract is a dud. VF keep on calling me to tell me I'm a valued customer and making sure I am happy with the service, but every issue I raise isn't something the person on the other end of the phone can deal with. After my last experience with VF's data services, I am still wary of them. Vodafone's pricing wasn't that great either.

Telstra required a long contract for a poorly priced product. Although their coverage is good, they use a non standard frequency, making my current data card useless. I also try to avoid using Telstra, due to their anti competetive attitude.

Optus uses the same 3G network as Vodafone, so they were appealing. The downside with Optus was price. Their "youth market" subsidiary Virgin Mobile has just released a 3G product with a great price (by Australian standards). With Virgin I get 1G of data per month for 30AUD (including 50AUD worth of calls). The Optus 3G network is still being expanded but is pretty good. In the country Optus'/Virgin's GPRS coverage is pretty good too - at least where I travel to. Although I am limited to 384/64Kbps, I am not locked into any contract.

The only downside with Virgin is the excess data charges - 20AUD per Mb. As I generally average a lot less than 1G p/m, this shouldn't be a problem. Streaming radio on the train should now be an option while checking my emails.