Exetel Mobile Broadband

Taking a break from house design, the purpose of this page is to advertise a great product that's not very well-known, but should be!

We've been using Exetel ADSL since 2004 and it's been great - a very solid and reliable service at a bargain price. In the beginning Exetel was a small business with a limited range of plans but since then they've grown and the technology has moved on. Exetel services now include broadband (ADSL1 and ADSL2), phone, VoIP (ultra-low-cost phone services using an internet connection), mobile phone and mobile broadband. The newest of these is mobile broadband - it's been available for the past few years from the major providers but at a price that most would consider prohibitively expensive. Exetel's prices, by contrast, are very reasonable, bringing this technology into the reach of:

  1. people (like me) who want an internet connection while travelling around the country
  2. people whose low usage doesn't justify the cost of regular ADSL - probably dial-up users
  3. people in regional areas who simply can't get ADSL.

Mobile broadband plans, post-paid with and without contract:

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I recommend the HSPA W1A plan for light and/or variable usage. On all these plans you have the option to also order a USB modem at $145 (or free with 2-year contract).

Other options: Mobile broadband for mobile phones - Prepaid mobile broadband - ADSL plans.

$15 discount!

Using the order buttons on this page (or otherwise entering my agent code LITE722 in the "EXETEL Agent Code" section of the order form) will give you a $15 credit on your first monthly account and provide a small contribution to the construction cost of our house!

Basic questions

What is mobile broadband?
It's a connection to the internet (like dial-up or ADSL) using the mobile phone network to connect. So you get a sim-card just like the one you probably already have in your mobile phone. Compared to dial-up, it's usually very fast. Compared to ADSL, it's mobile and relatively cheap to set up.
I already have ADSL. Do I need this?
For most users who already have a fixed-line phone, ADSL (1 or 2) is the best choice for broadband internet access. I'd only recommend considering mobile broadband as a backup connection, as a mobile connection for travelling or to save money if your usage is very low.
I already have dial-up internet. Do I need this?
Oh yes! As a dial-up user you will probably have seen some simple web pages that take minutes to load, or email messages with attachments that take hours to download. Now imagine your connection was 10 or 20 times faster, or even more. Do you enjoy waiting?!
What equipment do I need?
If you already have a modern mobile phone with a web browser and a connection to your computer you may be able to use that (but see the note later about 3G, HSPA and operating frequencies). However, most people find it more convenient to use a special device (modem) to plug into their computer. And then you'll need a computer, of course, with a USB port - anything bought in the past five years should be ok. Then there are also some additional options that may be needed: If you want to share the connection between several computers you'll probably want a 3G router, and if the mobile phone signal is weak where you are you might also want an antenna to boost it.
What does it cost to set up?
The startup cost depends on what equipment you need. Most commonly you'd buy a USB modem at around $150, for a connection to a single computer, and that would be it. If you're willing to tie yourself into a 2-year contract, Exetel offers a suitable modem free. I don't really recommend long contracts, with the technology changing so fast, but if you consider that the minimum cost is $5 per month that's only $120 over the contract period, it's worth thinking about. For the additional options, if you need them, a 3G router will cost about $140 and a suitable antenna about $100.
What does it cost to run?
Many providers try to bamboozle you: think long contracts, fixed allowances with breathtaking overage costs and all sort of other interesting tricks. Exetel doesn't work like that. Their plans are generally no contract - you can cancel when you need to - except when equipment costs are included or (in the case of ADSL plans) where their wholesaler operates a minimum contract period. Their rates are based on clear "user pays" principles: for low usage they're great value; for higher usage they're realistically priced. The base plan (at the time of writing) is $5 per month plus 1.5 cents/MB of data usage. Many internet users will use less than 1000MB per month, putting the running cost of this plan at under $20 per month. Some particularly light users (eg. email only) may use less than 300MB per month, at a cost below $10. Keep in mind, though, the more you use the higher the cost.
So how much data will I use, really?
This is a hard question to answer - it really depends on you. If you're coming from a dial-up connection and using the internet only for light browsing, operating system updates and email, your current usage is probably less than 500MB per month. If you continue to use mobile broadband the same way, that same usage would cost you $10 to $15. But high-speed internet makes it possible to do things that you weren't able to do with dialup (watch YouTube videos, listen to internet radio, make cheap international phone calls using VoIP, download a movie etc.). It's good, of course, to open up new possibilities but you need to be aware of the extra data you're using. In practice, only downloading movies (or other large files) is likely to have a major impact on your monthly bill. In most cases downloads labelled with their file size (100MB, 1.5GB etc.), so when you're using mobile broadband it's a good idea to get into the habit of converting file size into cost before you download: at current rates, each MB is 1.5 cents, each GB is $15, so 100MB = $1.50, 1.5GB = $22.50.
Can I monitor how much data I'm using?
Yes, and you should do this. Exetel provides a usage meter in their "user facilities" web pages, and you can also find independently-written programs that tap into this data automatically to display it on your desktop or browser. I use and highly recommend the Firefox web browser with the Net Usage Item plugin. The meter may be a few hours behind actual usage though so you sitll need to be careful about large file downloads.
What if my son (grandson / nephew etc.) uses my computer to download a DVD?
A typical DVD holds up to a maximum 4.7GB of data, so the cost on Exetel's base plan could be up to about $70 for the download. Of course you should try to avoid this if you can (buying the DVD in the shops would be much cheaper), but at least you have a chance of recovering this sort of cost from his pocket money! Some major telcoms have famously charged $15 per MB for mobile data (1000 times higher than Exetel's price), which would put the cost of downloading a DVD at a frightening $70,000!
Can't I just go prepaid instead?
Yes, you can. Exetel has a range of prepaid options and of course this gives you the security of knowing you won't get any nasty surprises. However in my opinion they're not as good value so for responsible users I'd recommend post-paid. Still, details are below if you want to consider them.
Can I get coverage?
Coverage depends on the Optus mobile network, which Exetel uses as their carrier. It's generally very good for relatively populated areas (capital cities and coastal regions), but of course in sparsely-populated regions you're much less likely to get a signal. You can check coverage in your location using the Optus website. If you're in a marginal coverage area an antenna may help to boost the signal.
Which plan should I choose?
If you're just starting off, I'd suggest signing up for the H1A plan and USB modem (with or without contract, depending on how you feel about paying $150 up front or being stuck on a contract for two years). At the time of writing this offers the very reasonable 1.5 cents / MB rate, which, compared to the other plans, is likely to work out best unless you know in advance exactly how much data you're going to use.
Why are you recommending this?
Fiona and I are long-term satisfied customers, having used Exetel's ADSL since 2004 and their mobile broadband since January 2009. It's a referral programme, of course, but I decided to become an agent because I'm so impressed with the products and the value they offer. By posting this page I hope to introduce a few people to the benefits of low-cost mobile broadband and in the process perhaps earn a little beer money!
I have a technical question
Please see the section below.

Mobile data plans for use in mobile phones

Modern smart-phones have high-speed 3G data capabilities, built-in web browsers and email clients and can also act as modems when connected to a computer by USB or bluetooth. A high-end smart phone with wireless functionality can even be turned into a mobile wireless hot-spot with the use of special software such as Joiku-spot (although used like this, the battery-drain is spectacular!).

So if you have such a phone (or plan to get one), why not sign up for one of these data plans and use it? Well, you can. Although the plans listed above are generally intended for use with a computer and USB modem, there's nothing to stop you using the simcard in a mobile phone if you want to. You would even be able to receive calls through the regular mobile network (GSM), and make calls using VoIP software on your phone. But there's one important limitation to the plans above, used in this way: they cannot make regular (GSM) mobile calls or send SMSs through the mobile network. So if you find yourself in an area that lacks 3G coverage, you won't be able to make calls or send SMSs.

Another range of plans is available to give you this important backup. These plans offer the same low data cost of 1.5 cents per MB, but also allow outgoing mobile phone calls and SMS. The call cost for these is slightly higher than Exetel's other plans but still very reasonable compared to other carriers.

Mobile broadband plans for use in mobile phones (no modem):

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I'd recommend the WM A plan unless you make a lot of mobile calls and are sure the lower call rates justify the 2-year contract.

Other options: Mobile broadband only plans - Prepaid mobile broadband - ADSL plans.

More technical questions

What sort of mobile phones are suitable?
Exetel's plans run on the Optus mobile phone network using 3G / HSPA at 2100MHz and 900MHz (the 900MHz network is sometimes called YesG). So for the best possible access your phone should offer the same connectivity. However there are many phones that don't offer all this, and they could still be usable in certain circumstances, or with minor limitations. As a minimum specification I'd suggest 2100MHz UMTS / 3G, provided you live in an area served by this frequency (check the frequency shown for your address in the Optus coverage checker).
What's with all the acronyms? (GPRS, 2.5G, 3G, 3.5G, UMTS, HSPA etc.)
It is confusing. Here's a simple guide:
  • 2G refers to the old 9.6kbps mobile data connection. It's rarely if ever used now.
  • 2.5G or GPRS works at 64kbps - roughly dial-up speed - on the regular (GSM) mobile network. This is used on data connections as a fall-back when higher speed connections aren't available. It's ok for occasional use as a backup but really too slow to use all the time.
  • 3G or UMTS works at 384kbps - similar to a low-speed ADSL broadband and about 6 times dialup speed. It's a practical and useful connection, but not the fastest available.
  • 3.5G or HSPA is an improved version of UMTS theoretically capable of up to 3600kbps or 7200kbps, as fast as many current high-speed ADSL connections. Although the speed actually achieved is usually well below the theoretical limit (I've commonly seen 500-1000kbps in some locations, up to 3000kbps in others) it's still a very worthwhile improvement over UMTS.
What about NextG?
NextG is Telstra's brand name for their 3G / HSPA network which runs on 2100MHz and (mainly) 850MHz frequencies. Note the different frequency - this means that equipment equipment built for Telstra's 850MHz network will not work on Optus' 900MHz system, and vice versa. However the 2100MHz frequency is common to both.
Can I use a NextG phone / modem with Exetel's simcard?
You'd need to be sure that the phone / modem is unlocked from the Telstra network and that it supports 3G (UMTS and / or HSPA) at 2100MHz. Even then it will only work in 2100MHz coverage. If you happen to be in a region only covered by the Optus 900MHz (YesG) frequency you'll be limited to GPRS at dialup speed.
Can I use an Optus phone / modem with Exetel's simcard?
Yes. But again you'll need to check the operating frequency in your region and whether the modem supports it (some early Optus branded modems were 2100 UMTS only).
What if it's locked to the Optus network?
Since Exetel also uses the Optus network for these plans, it will still work.
What if it's locked to some other network?
You'll need to get it unlocked before it will work with these plans.
Will it work with my unlocked <insert phone here>?
You need to find out exactly what your phone will do. A Google search for "<your phone> specifications" will usually turn up a page or two of useful information (or see if cnet.com.au has a review). Note that many phones are tri- or quad-band GSM, eg. you might see "GSM 850 / 900 / 1800 / 1900". Ignore these frequencies - they're not 3G. Look instead for something like: "UMTS 2100" or the ideal: "HSPA 2100 / 900".
Can I use VoIP?
VoIP (Voice over IP) means making phone calls - generally at extremely low cost - via the internet using a data connection. These data plans can be used for VoIP (unlike some other suppliers Exetel doesn't put any artificial restrictions on your use of data) but in my experience the call quality varies a lot depending on the quality of your signal / connection. If you have a good signal it's a great way to get cheap mobile calls!
What does it cost to use VoIP?
VoIP call rates are very cheap, but when using VoIP over a mobile data connection you'll also have to pay for the data you use. Even so, compared to a regular mobile call this works out at a very reasonable price. For example, using Exetel's VoIP plans, international calls to many destinations cost $0.02 per minute (this is the rate to normal land-lines in the UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand, China, France, Germany and many other places). Then the amount of data used varies depending on the software and settings you use but as a rough guide expect around 1MB (1.5 cents) per minute. So the total cost for international calls made from your mobile could be less than 4 cents per minute!

Pre-paid Mobile broadband

As discussed above, mobile broadband is offered on a pay-per-use basis. If you use a lot of data, it will cost you. The amounts concerned are nothing like as scary as you'd find on other providers but if you want the security of never exceeding your pre-paid limit, these plans are for you.

Pre-paid Mobile broadband plans (including modem):

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Mobile broadband pre-paid recharge:

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On prepaid, I'd recommend the PP2000 plan / recharge for light and/or variable usage - for the 90 days expiry.

Exetel ADSL plans

Exetel also offers a wide range of great-value ADSL fixed-line broadband plans. For more information please see the ADSL1 or ADSL2 plans on the main Exetel website. Again, please remember to enter my agent code LITE722 in the "EXETEL Agent Code" section of the order form) for a $15 credit on your first monthly account.

Chris