4G Mobile Broadband Buying Guide 2012: Get The Right Data For You

So you want to supercharge your laptop or tablet's mobile data connection? Who do you go with? How do you cut down on the device and plan confusion? Follow our 4G Mobile Broadband Buying Guide, of course.


Welcome to Gizmodo's 4G Week: Everything you need to know about 4G in Australia. From the networks that do and don't support it, through to the devices you can use and the best deals out there.


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The Basics

We've covered them before, but they bear repeating.

Before you start on your quest to buy a shiny, new 4G smartphone or modem, it's worth considering the basics that should underpin all tech purchases:

Know Your Budget

Setting a budget and sticking to it is paramount when it comes to tech buying, and it's especially important when it comes to getting a phone on a contract. 24 months is a long time to be stuck with one device, and if it's beyond your means, you'll either be stuck paying too much for something you don't need or something you can't afford. Do a bit of maths, find a figure you can comfortably afford per month and stick to it. Don't let yourself be duped by slick talking mobile salesfolk. At the end of the day, it's always you left holding the bag.

Decide What You Need Above What You Want

Make a list of features you know you can't live without in your smartphone. Need an ace camera? Make sure there's a note of it. Desperate for customisation options? Android's the one for you. Need a certain amount of battery life? Write that down, too. Don't get sucked into a certain device because it's shiny and neglect everything you need day-to-day.

Check Your Coverage

Having 4G support on your device sure is fun, but you need to check if you're in a 4G coverage area first. No good getting your new phone home and figuring out it can't do the speeds it says on the tin. You can search for your address on Telstra's 4G maps here and Optus' here. MVNOs like Virgin Mobile run on the Optus network, but if you want to be sure, it has coverage maps also. Vodafone currently doesn't support 4G. For that, you'll be waiting until next year.

Research Your Device

Once you have one or two devices in mind, hit your nearest search engine to see what people who own that device think about it. You might just find that it goes bang after a month with the device or it doesn't do something you hoped it actually did. You can read reviews that we and other tech sites write until the phone goes out of style, but we can't tell you what it's like to live with over an extended period of time like others can. Also, make sure you try before you buy. Even if it involves insisting that a salesperson powers up a phone for you to try before you sign on the dotted line.

Know Thy Telco

Here's a bit of information on the telco landscape right now. For more information on 4G in Australia, read our 4G Frequencies explained feature.

Optus

Optus is a solid 12 months behind Telstra in the 4G coverage race, so the handset selection isn't as bountiful as you might think. Still, different networks mean different coverage footprints and price structures. Optus currently has 4G coverage in Sydney, Perth and Melbourne, with Brisbane and the Gold Coast coming early next year and Adelaide to follow in mid-2013.

Telstra

Telstra has a solid head-start on the number-two telco in Australia, meaning that it has managed to iron out more device exclusives. Telstra has pledged that it will have 66 per cent of the population covered by mid-next year, meaning that it will hold onto its number one spot for some time yet. More coverage means more places you can use your 4G coverage before you failover to Next G.

Virgin Mobile While Optus and Virgin Mobile share the same 4G network, Virgin often has cheaper prices on 4G handsets, often the same devices Optus is offering too.

Armed with that knowledge, let's get started...

The Devices

(All devices are in alphabetical order, click on the name to read the full review...)

Optus 4G Mini Wi-Fi Modem

The Optus 4G Mini Wi-Fi modem is a Huawei-made contraption that will give you massive speeds for longer thanks to the larger battery. With it you can connect up to 5 devices simultaneously.


Optus 4G USB Modem

The USB modem option from Optus gives you connectivity to the 4G network, but it doesn't let you share your connection by default. For that you'll have to do some Control Panel/System Preferences magic.


Telstra Mobile Wi-Fi 4G Modem

As we mentioned, Telstra's 4G network has a 12-month head-start on the competition, meaning it's currently the network with the larger coverage footprint.

The 4G Wi-Fi modem gives you connection to the 4G network, connectivity for up to five devices simultaneously and some nice customisation options buried in the device menus.


Telstra Mobile USB 4G Modem

You won't be able to share your connection without a bit of tinkering on Telstra's 4G USB option, but at least you won't have to recharge the battery all the time.


The Plans

You can sort and filter this table by clicking on the columns (so you can sort all plans by total price or just pick out Wi-Fi or business options).

Source: Lifehacker Australia

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